Haven Avenue may be Ocean City’s most notoriously flooded road.
At the least, no other road has two homeowners’ associations devoted to keeping it dry.
One new group of property owners on the street’s southern end is forming the Haven Avenue Homeowner’s Association to get the government to address their infrastructure issues.
“Everyone knows there is a problem,” member Jackie Wolchko said at a recent City Council meeting. “We have become part of the wetlands.”
Another group, originally called the 16-34 Community Association, formed in the mid-1980s to fight Haven Avenue floods. They’re now called The Ocean City Community Association, and they are still fighting.
“It is still our No. 1 issue,” Curt Gronert, its president, said.
It’s not a mystery why the road floods. It sits at a low elevation in the middle of the island.
Gronert said the problems have improved in his part of the island, around 27th Street, because the city installed check valves. They allow water to flow only one way through pipes, preventing tidal flooding from backing up pipes and flowing into streets.
At the southern end of the island, the problems are worse. There are no bulkheads there. Homeowners on Haven Avenue overlook miles of marshes.
The road stretches from 56th Street to North Street, but it’s cut off by wetlands at various places. From 51st to 49th streets, it is bordered on its west side by marshland.
An abandoned railroad bed runs parallel to the road there, acting like an earthen dike, to some extent. Residents actually put plants and lawn ornaments between the decomposing railroad ties.
That’s where Wolchko has owned a home for about 15 years. She said about 60 homeowners in that area want to see something done about regular flooding.
She said she would like to see engineers try anything they can, from using larger drainage pipes to raising roads to digging out canals in the wetlands.
Those issues were discussed this past weekend at a community meeting held by Ocean City Councilman Peter Guinosso.
Guinosso said it is a difficult part of the island to engineer around, because it is so close to sensitive wetlands habitat.
“I don’t think there's anything we can do to keep them dry year-round,” he said. “That’s a given.”
Instead, it really means finding ways to reduce annoying flooding at high tides. The reality is that it's simply a low area, and raising land is more complex than it sounds.
“We have to make certain, which is always a concern, that we don’t make things better for one area and worse from someone else,” City Administrator Mike Dattilo said.
Haven Avenue stops at 49th Street and resumes at 36th Street, where it again runs parallel to the former railroad right of way, now turned into a bike path. It stops yet again between 26th and 25th streets to make room for the city's wildlife refuge.
Gronert lives just east of that refuge on West Avenue, but he said he is well aware of flooding on Haven. He said his group’s involvement led the city to undertake a study of drainage issues in the area years ago.
“There have been improvements,” he said. “They have been spending money.”
Dattilo said the city now plans to look at the problems in the southern end of Haven Avenue to see if any proposed improvements can fit in the government's five-year capital plan.
“It’s something we're certainly aware of,” he said. “Those areas really present some challenges.”
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