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OC Plans for Next Step in Flooding Fight

A spring storm in 2017 flooded Battersea Road in Ocean City. 

By Bill Barlow

OCEAN CITY – The next wave of flood mediation took a step forward, in Ocean City, with the approval of contracts to design projects in areas throughout the city.
Ocean City Council unanimously approved several contracts at its Aug. 13 meeting, laying the groundwork for upcoming large-scale projects in several sections of town.
The vote came as part of the council’s consent agenda, in which all the resolutions are enacted in a single vote, despite a request from a flooding advocacy group for a delay to allow for further discussion. Officials said the approvals were the culmination of months of work and would not be delayed.
According to information posted to the city’s website, Ocean City spent $37 million on road and drainage work, in 2018, with plans to spend $25 million more in the coming years.
At the recent council meeting, City Administrator George Savastano outlined extensive projects on the way, including new pump stations, new berms to keep water out of areas that do not have bulkheads, and an island-wide survey using laser technology.
The largest of the approved contracts, and likely the largest project, is a $366,000 deal with Maser Consulting to design and plan phase one of a pump station system. As part of his presentation to council, Savastano said the work would encompass 300 acres of city blocks, from 9th to 18th streets, from the bay to Wesley Avenue.
“With the magnitude of this project, we’re looking at a fall 2021 construction start,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that we need to do with this. This will be the largest pump station project that we’ve undertaken.”
Also in the works are plans for flood mitigation in the Ocean City Homes, a residential neighborhood in the south end, an area between 9th and 26th streets, along West Avenue, and the next phase of a Merion Park project.
City officials pointed to earlier phases in that neighborhood, near the 34th Street Bridge, as a success story, with pumping stations helping to ease chronic flooding problems.
Water still flows over the marshes and into the neighborhood. According to Savastano, the planning phase will determine the size and placement of protective berms, what environmental permits will be needed, and the preparation of a budget.
In Ocean City Homes, he said, the street was elevated at 52nd and 55th streets, as part of earlier projects. This phase will look at the possibility of raising other streets, as well as installing berms and potentially installing pump stations to clear water from the streets, even when tides are high.
The firm Act Engineering, which worked closely with the city on drainage and other large-scale projects, was awarded $55,000 for the Ocean City Homes plans and $73,000 for the next phase for Merion Park.
The same firm received a $72,000 contract for a flood mitigation concept design for the area from 36th to 52nd streets, on West Avenue.
Engineering Design Associates took a $63,000 contract for design work from 26th to 32nd streets, where Councilwoman Karen Bergman said flooding was worsening over the past several years.
Later in the meeting, Councilman Keith Hartzell said he heard from a woman in one neighborhood that she waited 30 years for this kind of project.
According to Savastano, the planned projects set to be designed are part of a long-term fight against flooding since Mayor Jay Gillian’s election.
“Much has been completed during Mayor Gillian’s administration, but much remains to be accomplished,” he said. “We have completed significant replacement of infrastructure and installation of multiple pump stations in the lowest-lying areas of the city, in the north end, midtown, and Merion Park.”
Suzanne Hornick, the founder of the Ocean City, NJ Flooding Committee, agreed that much has been done, but she raised concerns about how next steps should be taken.
The committee she launched has been active for years, advocating for better flood control and prevention. Several areas of the city flood routinely during heavy rains or exceptionally high tides. She told council members that no one disputes that Gillian has done more to address flooding than previous administrations, and possibly than most other municipalities, but she suggested that council delay the votes to allow for more discussion.
“We’d like to be part of that discussion,” she said. “We’ve waited so many years. Two weeks isn’t going to make a bit of difference.”
She said the organization called for an island-wide flood plan and suggested that the city has become too comfortable with some contractors.
“We must plan, not only for now but also our future on this barrier island,” she said, saying that the city has a responsibility to put its residents and taxpayers first.
“Let me tell you what; we do, every day,” said Savastano. “They’re the people we serve. We’re public servants.”
Savastano did not respond immediately, but answered after a prompt from Hartzell. Savastano described the comments as “hogwash” that did not justify an answer, saying the comments made his blood boil.
Council did not delay the vote. Council President Robert Barr said if anyone had evidence of wrongdoing on the part of city employees, they should bring it forward but otherwise should not make public accusations.
Hornick asked if she could respond. “No,” said Barr.
To contact Bill Barlow, email bbarlow@cmcherald.com.

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