Corps to pursue new hydrodynamic study of OC inlet

Deciding against using the results of a 17-year old report, which couldn’t include data for events such as Superstorm Sandy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has instead elected to pursue a new hydrodynamic study of the Ocean City Inlet to determine the cause of its constant shoaling.

Last week, the Corps delivered a response to a July letter of intent from state officials, Maryland state Delegate Mary Beth Carozza and Maryland state Sen. Jim Mathias, the Worcester County (Md.) Commissioners and the Town of Ocean City, Md., endorsing action.

First, the Corps acknowledged the scope of the issue.

“From 1999 to 2011, the Corps dredged the inlet, harbor, Isle of Wight Bay and Sinepuxent Bay 24 times, for a total of 372,167 cubic yards of material,” the decision letter signed by Col. Edward Chamberlayne of the Corps, read.

“In comparison, from 2012 to present, the same federal channels have been dredged 11 times, for a total of 676,578 cubic yards of material. We know a more comprehensive, long-term solution to the problem is needed,” Chamberlayne wrote.

Chamberlayne acknowledged the need for continual dredging while the study is completed, as long as Congress continues to provide the federal funding.

In the meantime, the Corps is pursuing a report to allow the study of the hydrodynamics of the area and how they contribute to the shoaling.

If Congress approves the report, federal tax dollars pay for it.

“Hydrodynamic models are an efficient, comprehensive approach to representing coastal water dynamics. These numerical models can be used to simulate currents, water levels, sediment transport and salinity,” Corps spokesman Chris Gardner said.

That report would then be submitted to Corps headquarters for approval by the end of the calendar year. If such approval were granted, according to the letter, the Corps’ Baltimore District would then develop a project management plan once a non-federal sponsor is identified.

Three non-federal sponsors — the State, by means of Carozza and Mathias; the County; and the Town of Ocean City — have already identified themselves in signing on to the earlier letter of intent, Carozza said.

That is also where local money begins to figure into the picture.

“Regarding the cost-share for implementation,” Gardner said, “should there be a recommendation from the [hydrodynamic] study, it would be 65 percent federal and 35 percent local.”

It has not yet been determined if the local share could be achieved through in-kind donations, such as providing a site to dispose of dredged material.

Carozza said the Corps’ letter, by acknowledging these issues, commits them to certain things.

“They’re on record as recognizing the urgent need. We have them committed to the long-term while still in the short-term,” she said.

“My follow-up is to touch base with everyone, starting with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources,” she said.

Presupposing the outcomes are all favorable and this course of action is followed, a single recommendation from the 1998 report may be implemented: The inlet could be dredged to a depth of 16 feet and the harbor could be dredged to 14 feet, according to the letter. However, Chamberlayne warned, those actions would constitute separate actions and would need their own processes.

Currently, the inlet is approved for a total depth of 12 feet but is often much shallower than that, forcing vessels to either wait for the tide or risk entry and potentially damaging their boats.

Damaged boats have led to at least one commercial fleet, operated by Joe Letts, uprooting and moving their operations from Ocean City to New Jersey, and delays are commonplace.

During the April meeting organized by Carozza and held at the Marlin Club, the issue was described by Merrill Campbell, the manager of the Ocean City dock for Southern Connection seafood.

“This is just from my March 1 diary,” Campbell began, stating that a boat ran aground at 3 p.m. “carrying $12,000 in clams, trying to hit high tide. The Instigator, carrying $20,000 worth of fish, hit and slid at 3:30. The Starbright, sister to the Instigator, I believe made it at 4:30. The day before, the Ocean Gold carried in $40,000 worth of seafood and couldn’t get back out.”