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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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OC Plans to Create Drainage Team by End of ‘19

Flooding in Ocean City.

By Bill Barlow

OCEAN CITY – Rising water and sinking land are a tough combination for New Jersey’s barrier islands. In Ocean City, officials have put big money into drainage improvements, and plan to continue those efforts in the coming years.
Projects include an increased reliance on pumping stations to move water off the streets, even when tides are high. City officials announced plans Oct. 19 to appoint a team dedicated to drainage issues, and to oversee the maintenance of those pumping stations. That team is expected to be named before the end of the year.
That work is expected to include now-familiar efforts, like installing pumping stations and valves aimed at keeping tidewater out and more quickly draining rainwater from streets. Recently, the city started raising the level of the streets to reduce flooding.
New efforts could include building walls in some neighborhoods, with options under consideration in the city’s south end and the Merion Park neighborhood, according to a recent city presentation.
Federal reports project an increase in coastal flooding, including on sunny days when the moon is right and the tide is exceptionally high. Ocean City recently saw an example of that – one that made headlines in a Philadelphia newspaper, but did not seem unusual to many year-round residents.
Projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) indicate rising seas will mean more flooding in the future, with a greater-than-average impact in New Jersey.
“Everyone thinks the water’s just rising and nothing else,” said Mayor Jay Gillian, opening a town hall meeting on drainage issues Oct. 19. While barrier islands will have to address rising seas in the coming years and decades, he said the land is settling as well.
Neighborhoods throughout Ocean City have seen this effect, where houses on pilings seem to rise as the land around them slowly sinks, breaking stoops from the front walkways. Gillian cited manhole covers that seem to lift out of the pavement around them.
“That’s because they’re on a foundation, and everything else is sort of settling around it,” Gillian said. “We have settlement, we have water, we have numerous things that we have to think about.”
The two-part event included an update to the city’s ongoing efforts to clear silt from back bays, a massive, multi-year project that city officials said was too long neglected.
The second part of the workshop covered drainage issues. For both efforts, the city has turned to the firm ACT Engineering for guidance and planning. Carol Beske, with the engineering firm, praised the city’s efforts.
Most projects undertaken require extensive permitting, she said, with seven state and federal agencies responsible for issuing permits.
“If we decide tomorrow that we want to do a specific project relating to flooding issues, we would still have to go through a very long review process,” she said. “We have a great working relationship with the DEP (state Department of Environmental Protection), but it is still a process.”
She said the city is seen as a statewide leader in these efforts, which have included several permits from DEP that had not been issued before, including a citywide permit for dredging, and another permit to rebuild a back bay island to its historic size. She indicated that the city has become the poster child for such projects at the DEP.
“Your mayor and council are very, very committed to making things work here,” she told residents attending the meeting.
Vince Bekier, tapped this year to head the city’s Department of Community Development, said the city has put more than $37 million into roads and drainage projects since Gillian’s first budget as mayor in 2011, with plans to spend $25 million more over the next five years.
Bekier discussed projects in each of the city’s four wards, both those recently completed and those planned for the short term. One project was new paving and drainage work in the north end, which included replacing the old siphon drains with newer technology. The old system would rely on the physics of water to move rainwater across the street and out to the bay, but that required allowing the water to collect in puddles.
“Siphon drains were cutting edge technology in the 1920s,” he said.
Plans call for work on the west side of the north end next.
Ocean City Council approved contracts Oct. 24 for several of the proposed projects Bekier outlined.
He described work at the far south end of the city as some of the most dramatic, including new drainage systems put in south of 55th Street in conjunction with work undertaken by the water and gas utilities.
Also, in the 4th Ward, the city raised the level of an alley along the marsh at 55th Street, in the Ocean City Homes section of the city. Next, the city is considering paving the other side of the neighborhood along 52nd Street, an area that often experiences flooding at intersections when tides are high.
Jeff Richter, with ACT Engineering, discussed plans to elevate Ocean City roads, along with an idea under consideration to create a barrier along the bays and marsh in some neighborhoods.
Many neighborhoods in the city’s downtown have bulkheads along the bay, and bulkheads line the beachside of most of the town, between the streets and houses and dunes. These barriers could be made of vinyl or corrugated steel, Richter said, and be part of an overall move to raise not only the houses of Ocean City, but also the land itself.
The barriers could prevent high tides from washing across the wetlands and bays and into streets, he said, but the city would still need pumping stations to move rainwater past the barriers.
The first areas under consideration include a wide section of the Merion Park neighborhood to the south of 34th Street, and along the condominiums on West Avenue, between 43rd and 45th streets.
Merion Park has three pumping stations, which were installed as part of one of the first of the large-scale drainage projects undertaken by Gillian’s administration. Those pumps would need to be reconfigured, Richter said. Currently, they are set to shut down when the water reaches a certain height.
“As with any drainage project, it’s not going to keep all the water out all the time. When it rains and it rains hard, you’re still going to have water running in the street, as it does everywhere else in the state,” Richter said. “The expectation would be that with these systems, the water would not get out into the travel lanes. It would stay confined to the gutters and underground system as much as possible.”
To contact Bill Barlow, email bbarlow@cmcherald.com.

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