OCEAN CITY — Those looking for answers to persistent flooding problems at a Saturday morning 4th Ward meeting with representatives of ACT Engineers were likely disappointed.
Carol Beske, director of public involvement with the engineering firm, said the Aug. 4 meeting was more about getting information from residents than giving information on potential projects. She described it as the first step in a long process aimed at planning drainage and flood control work in the long and short term.
ACT has already gathered data on site and from the Army Corps of Engineers, the state Department of Environmental Protection and other sources, she said.
“Today is the beginning of a process that is going to be gathering information from you,” she said.
Councilman Bob Barr, representing the city’s southernmost 4th Ward, regularly holds ward meetings, although one set for July was postponed until Aug. 4 at the Chris Maloney Hall at the Ocean City Library. Residents crowded the room, which accommodates more than 100.
Over the past several years, Ocean City has aggressively tackled paving and drainage issues, with large-scale projects in several neighborhoods. City officials have lauded a drainage project in the Merion Park neighborhood near the 34th Street bridge as bringing significant improvement.
But other continuing work has brought complaints as disruptive projects drag through the summer. Barr, along with Mayor Jay Gillian, has repeatedly complained about delays in a $6.5 million drainage project from 26th to 34th streets, which was expected to be completed before summer started but drags on. An $8 million project in the north end is supposed to install a pumping station to help clear water faster. Supported in part by a $5 million FEMA grant, that project also continues through the summer.
The city expects to spend $32 million on road and drainage projects over the next five years.
According to Rob Korkuch, president and principal engineer for ACT, the city needs information to plan the best way to approach the problem. Some of that information can best come from the residents.
The firm asked those attending to fill out a questionnaire, including reporting on flooding in their neighborhoods. Korkuch said they already know flooding is getting worse all the time. While projects may be able to improve matters, eliminating flooding in Ocean City is likely impossible, he said.
“We need to drain water from the streets after it rains, and keep tidal water out of the city, and we need to do that affordably,” Korkuch said at the Saturday meeting. “As an engineer the cost to eliminate flooding in this city — I mean eliminate so that it never happens — is probably not something that’s affordable.”
He cited the experiences of Louisiana and the Netherlands to illustrate the scale and expense of keeping rising water out of low-lying areas.
“The goal here is to understand what practically can be done. And there are a lot of things that can be done,” he said.
ACT Engineers has worked extensively with Ocean City on lagoon dredging projects in the back bays. According to city spokesman Doug Bergen, the firm also has a $30,000 contract for stormwater flooding data evaluation.
Several residents of Ocean City Homes, a development on the west side of town between 52nd and 55th streets, raised concerns about flooding in their neighborhood. Issues were also raised in the neighboring Ocean Village Condominiums and in condominiums along West Avenue bordering the marsh.
A resident of one of those condos said a big step would be keeping drivers of four-wheel-drive trucks from speeding through flooded streets, which pushes water into her crawlspace. She also asked about the possibility of installing a berm along the marsh, which she had heard was under consideration.
“A berm is an idea that we’re looking at right now. The water in your street doesn’t care if it came from the back bay or fell as rain. It’s still in your street, it’s still in front of your house, or in some cases under your house,” said Eric Rosina, ACT’s vice president. There is already an out-of-use railroad bed along the marsh in that area, he said, so it could just mean repairing the holes broken through over time. But he said the firm also has to look at how the water gets out. Closing it to incoming water could block water from flowing out of the neighborhood.
Hartzell said the city is committed to addressing infrastructure, ready to spend the money that needs to be spent to address problems. He added that the city must look at the entire island when planning projects and plan carefully, saying there have been times the city sought to address an issue in one area and caused new problems somewhere else.
Korkuch added that ACT will help the city find grants for some projects to help reduce the local cost. The source of the funding will have an impact not only on the timing of projects, but also on how the work gets done.
“We’re all familiar with the Golden Rule, which is whoever has the gold makes the rules. So wherever we get money from, they’re going to have a strong influence on how it’s spent and what it gets used for,” he said.