(Dec. 27, 2019) In response to years of problems with shoaling in the Ocean City Inlet and harbor, the Worcester County Commissioners in February voted to join forces with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Maryland Department of Natural Resources for a long-term project channel maintenance effort.
The goal is to deepen the inlet’s channel to 16 feet and the harbor’s channel to 14 feet.
Although the two areas have regular dredging maintenance, the increasingly shallow waters and shoals have damaged boats and prevented some commercial fishing boats from using the inlet.
The dredging material from the inlet will taken to near-shore locations for the Assateague Island Restoration Project, and the harbor dredging materials will go to a land-based site, according to the project proposal.
The commissioners previously approved $300,000 in funding from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for the Ocean City Inlet project. According to Bob Mitchell, director of environmental programs, the county and state departments of natural resources are responsible for $1.7 million with multiple payments throughout the project timeline.
In the $1.2 million plan to combat shoaling, Bill Anderson, assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, revealed that the agency was able to tap into shallow water funding for the inlet. The department maintains a Waterway Improvement Fund paid for by boat taxes and fees, which then goes on to pay for work on shallow channels.
The county jumped on the issue when commissioners voted in February 2018 to contribute $300,000 for a study to determine the source of shoaling in the Ocean City Inlet.
Determining contribution from Ocean City was a hot topic. In April 2018, the Worcester County Commissioners sent a letter asking Ocean City government to contribute $200,000 as a non-federal sponsor for a $1.2 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study to design a long-term dredging operation.
That number was reduced to $150,000 when County Chief Administrator Harold Higgins provided revised numbers in May 2018 – federal funding would cover half the cost, with another $200,000 from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Then Sen. Jim Mathias (D-38) introduced legislation seeking an additional $100,000 in state support.
However, Ocean City Council members who argued that the resort paid more into county government than it got back, said the inlet was not Ocean City’s problem. Councilman Dennis Dare said the inlet is, at best, an indirect benefit to Ocean City.
“I just don’t understand why … it’s imperative the taxpayers of Ocean City be asked to participate in something that’s outside the town,” he said.
While in general agreement with Dare’s sentiment, Councilman John Gehrig noted the importance of the White Marlin Open to Ocean City’s history and heritage, which could be affected by the shoaling.
“The issue with the county needs to get resolved,” he said. “We’re partners [and] a team and we don’t act like it. Sometimes being right isn’t always enough.”
Ocean City eventually decided against contributing any funding at all.
In May 2018, Rep. Andy Harris (R-1) introduced a budget amendment to the federal Energy and Water Appropriations bill to prioritize dredging shallow channels in the first district.
“The inclusion of this amendment in the FY19 Energy and Water Appropriations bill is a victory for coastal communities in Maryland’s First District and across the country,” Harris said. “Shoaling is a serious issue for several coastal communities in Maryland’s First District.”
The Army Corps of Engineers held a public meeting regarding the project in June 2019 at the Berlin Library. Army Corps Project Manager Jacqui Seiple said the inlet project is 90 percent federally funded, with up to $10 million through the Continuing Authorities Program.
“It allows us to implement small scale projects without congressional approval,” Seiple said.
Army Corps Baltimore District Project Manager Andrew Roach said a study would address a 50-feet deep scour hole near Homer Gudelsky Park in West Ocean City. The deepening of that hole and the swirling currents it causes destabilizes the adjacent shoreline and nearby residences.
The Army Corps plans to provide recommendations by early 2020 for implementation by the end of that year.