Community Association hears from Dattilo on flooding

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OCEAN CITY — It happens from time to time; this barrier island experiences astronomical high tides and the wind is blowing out of the northeast. Combine that with a new or full moon and at worst, you have a recipe for disaster.

At best, you have flooding in low lying areas and that’s something that city officials can’t always prevent, according to Business Administrator Mike Dattilo.

Some parts of the north end of the island are 10 or more feet above sea level, but most of the island is about four feet. Haven Avenue is the lowest part of the island, forming a trough between the ocean and the bay.

“Literally everything east of Haven Avenue passes through Haven on its way to the bay,” Dattilo said. The shape of the island, the geography, he said, made flooding difficult to avoid in some areas, especially after a heavy rain.

So when conditions are right, the ocean and the bay flood Haven Avenue, he told the crowd gathered at a meeting of the Ocean City Community Association Saturday, Dec. 3.

Dattilo and city engineer Arthur Chew discussed flooding and drainage issues and entertained questions from the crowd.

Solutions, Dattilo noted, include elevating streets, making improvements such as tidal flex valves, repairing an aging network of underground pipes and repairing and replacing bulkheads along the bay so water doesn’t pour over during a high tide.

Some, but not all flooding can be prevented, city officials noted. During a “10-year storm,” low-lying areas will flood. A 50-year storm will flood about half the island and a 100-year storm, such as the January 1992 storm, will flood the entire island.

The island flooded during the hurricane of 1944 and the infamous March 1962 storm, too, Chew noted.

While flooding will never be eliminated on a barrier island, there are some things the city can do to help, Dattilo said.

“We have some big challenges, just the elevation of the island,” Dattilo said. “There are some things that can be done to reduce the frequency and severity of the flooding. We know we are not going to be able to eliminate it.”

There are 242 outfall pipes, 47 on the ocean, from 29th Street to the Longport Bridge and 201 on the bay. Of those on the bay, 44 have tide check valves.

In the spring of 2010, 17 valves were installed, five were new and 12 were replacements. In 2011, 14 valves were installed, three new and 11 replacements.

Dattilo said the city has contracted to replace three bulkheads this spring, at Fourth, Sixth and 15th streets.

“They are not at the proper height and water passes right through,” he said. “This will alleviate some of the problems in the immediate areas.”

Tide flex valves, he said, can reduce the frequency and severity of flooding when they are in good working order. For several years, many of the valves were not well-maintained, but the city now has a maintenance schedule in place that should keep them in good working order.

“There are good and bad things about the valves,” he said. “When they are in place they can help, but they can also make it take longer for rain flooding to empty the streets.

“Valves don’t solve everything,” he said. “There are areas where the bulkheads are low, and there are areas where the water is coming up through the ground. The underground pipes are old and leaky. The valves in some places function properly, but the pipes don’t. Many of the pipes have been in place for several decades.

“We will continue to maintain the infrastructure and keep after these things,” he said.

At the Dec. 8 City Council meeting, Dattilo said two contracts would be awarded; roads and drainage for the area of Wesley Avenue from 26th to 29th streets and Simpson Avenue and Simpson Road, from Battersea Road to First Street.

“The work along Wesley Avenue will eliminate the beach outfall pipes,” Dattilo said, adding that the goal is to eliminate as many as possible as improvements continue.

He said the work along Simpson will continue into the fall and next year, all the way to Fifth Street.

Bayland Drive will be reconstructed, with drainage improvements and Asbury Avenue from 40th to 43rd streets will be improved. The numbered streets between West and Central avenues in that area will also be improved.

As road improvement continues, Dattilo said streets would be elevated whenever possible.

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