(UPDATED) Public works crews install path to enhance beach access at St. James Place

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The new concrete beach access path tapers from 11.5 feet at the sidewalk to 9.5 feet wide on the beach. The new concrete beach access path tapers from 11.5 feet at the sidewalk to 9.5 feet wide on the beach.

OCEAN CITY — Deep, soft sand is a luxury on the beachfront, but for senior citizens, small children and those living with disabilities, mounds of sand can make accessing the beach a difficult endeavor.

Over the past several years, the city’s public works crews have been on a mission to make life a little bit easier for these folks. Last week, they paved a 50-foot long concrete “ribbon” from the sidewalk at the end of the street into the dunes.

“It’s for ease of access to the beach,” said Mike Rossbach, the city’s public works director. “We’ve been doing a lot of projects to improve access to the beach. It’s strictly to improve access.”

At some street ends, the city has placed hard-packed gravel to help beach-goers. In other areas, they have built ramps to assist those in wheelchairs who can’t easily navigate a steep set of stairs.

“It depends on the street; each has its own challenge, so we try to create and design something that will work in that particular area,” he said.

“We have to look at the situation at each street end,” he said. “Between 15th Street and 20th Street, over the last several years, we have built eight ramps. This way people can come up the ramp to the boardwalk, walk across and go down another ramp. You can’t get a wheelchair up and down the steps and that made it very difficult for people.”

At some street ends, there is no boardwalk to help folks get over the bulkhead. When the bulkhead is very high, a set of stairs going up and down is no problem for most, but it creates an insurmountable problem for those with limited mobility. Rossbach said his public works team is working hard to overcome every challenge.

“That was not the case at St. James. At this street we needed something to get through the sand,” he said.

There have been several attempts to rectify the situation.

“There used to be a set of planks there, but then they get covered with sand and they’re uneven; they aren’t a good solution,” Rossbach said.

Last September, St. James Place was the sight of a Mobi-Mat demonstration.

“We tried a Mobi-Mat and then had to take it away when the big hurricane came through. We had a lot of people there when we put it down; everyone was real excited about it,” Rossbach said.

The Mobi-Mat is a flexible, rigid or semi-rigid roll out mat designed to construct a roadway to enhance the mobility of pedestrians, wheelchairs and sometimes vehicles or aircraft.

“We did the demonstration just before Labor Day,” he said. “The Mobi-Mat is something the city is definitely considering. We are looking into these. They would solve a lot of problems.”

The Mobi-Mat, he said, would be utilized to help people walk across the dune areas, beyond the concrete ribbons and ramps the public works crews create.

“They work very well. It’s one more thing we could do to improve access,” he said. “They roll up, you put them down for the summer and then you can take them out. It creates a stable surface; it really helps families with small children and people in wheelchairs.

“If we could do that at St. James Place, we could put it at the end of the concrete to help people get through the dune area where the sand is very hard to walk through,” he said.

Homeowners in the St. James area requested the city improve beach access. The city improved neighboring Stenton Place, a block north, last year.

“We did a similar project there, it makes it a lot easier for everyone,” Rossbach said.

Ocean City, he said, is a family resort and that means thousands of small children with moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas carrying chairs, towels, buckets and shovels among other things across the strand.

“The families have challenges and so do our senior citizens,” he said. “We have a lot of ability impaired residents and visitors. We are trying to accommodate everyone. We’re working on the street ends to provide access for everyone.

“Anything we can do to improve access, we’re doing it,” he said. “We don’t want anyone to be disappointed.”

Rossbach said the cost of the concrete ribbon came out of the public works budget, which is approved by both city council and the mayor.

“It’s an on-going project, every year we try to make more improvements,” he said.

City business administrator Mike Dattilo said securing funding for beach replenishment has become an extremely competitive process. Enhancing beach access could give the city an edge in the process. 
A few years ago the NJDEP required strategically-placed bathrooms and 24-hour beach access, but after Avalon won a lawsuit, the edict was struck down. 
“Access remains an issue,” Dattilo said, adding that the city would like to begin to utilize the beach mats.

“We're looking into grant money, we'd like to use them on all the beaches if possible.”

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