2012 in Ocean City: A year in review

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Ocean City had a newsworthy year in 2012, beginning with a controversial BYOB initiative and ending with Hurricane Sandy, both of which made national headlines. And in between, there were other, less noted stories that sparked debate and interest in the island resort town.

The year 2012 started in Ocean City with the annual First Night celebration and First Day at the Beach. While the event was a sold-out hit, the biggest news of January came in the form of a big, smelly beached whale.

Not more than 25 days into the new year and visitors were already flocking to Ocean City’s beach. But it wasn’t because of balmy temperatures – although it was notably warm. It was due to a decaying, 60-foot fin whale that washed ashore around lunchtime on Monday, Jan. 23 at Seventh Street. The news brought visitors briefly, but the stench lasted for days.

Also in January, Tom Williams, local sports writer, celebrated 50 years of broadcasting.

In February, a line was drawn, or redrawn, in the sand in Ocean City between BYOB supporters and opponents as a petition was circulated to get BYOB on the municipal ballot. This wasn’t the first go-round for BYOB in the historically dry town, but supporters felt they had a shot and garnered the requisite number of signatures to get the initiative on the ballot. This story didn’t end until May 8 when the referendum was defeated by a 2-1 margin.

Also in February, the Ocean City High School girls basketball team won its fourth conference championship against Middle Township 35-31, and another marine mammal took the spotlight as a dolphin was spotted in a local lagoon. The lagoon dolphin died a few days later.

Maybe not as prominent, but a great story out of February was a group of Ocean City High School alumni who re-released a 1969 Christmas recording.

In March, downtown Ocean City received a lot of attention when the mayor demolished City Hall Annex to make way for a new welcome center. City Council expressed concern with the plans, and members of the public also spoke out against rushing to get a new building up, so in May, just before the annual Spring Block Party, a pocket park was unveiled in the space instead.

Ethics board advocates won a months-long debate in Ocean City in March when council voted 4-3 to keep the board intact.

Local schools made out well in March as Ocean City was named one of 372 New Jersey school districts to take part in $19 million of federal Race to the Top funds. March 2012 also marked the 50th anniversary of the March 1962 storm.

In April, Ocean City became a frozen yogurt paradise with fro-yo stores popping up everywhere. Ocean City resident and former Bill Haley and His Comets drummer Dick Boccelli, 88, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 14.

Summer came early in April with temperatures heating up past 80 degrees. In fact, the warmer temperatures brought visitors and residents out and about all winter and spring.

April also saw the release of local historians Fred and Susan Miller’s newest book, “Legendary Locals of Ocean City.”

In May, a community came together for Upper Township native and OCHS alum Danny Margagliano. Locally, friends hosted a benefit to help pay for his medical bills from a spinal cord injury he sustained in a dive off a boat at Noriega Point in Destin, Fla.

Those living in the back bay were relieved to hear that City Council approved a $1.8 million contract for lagoon dredging from 16th Street to Waterway Road, although permits were still pending at the time.

May paved the way for the grand opening of the Route 52 Bridge and Causeway, over six years in the making. While the ribbon cutting was held May 24, all four lanes were opened over a week earlier. The welcome center is still not open, to date.

Ocean City High School was named to Newsweek’s top 1,000 schools in May, coming in at 780. And after months of renovations to the former department store, Stainton’s: A Gallery Shops opened its doors.

Then, in late May, a T-shirt in a boardwalk shop caused a stir.

May ended with a Red Raider baseball team on its way to the South Jersey Championship game and a girls lacrosse championship title.

In June, the city announced a possible sublease agreement for the Second Street marina with local developer Sean Scarborough. This issue, too, was debated for a month before the city approved the agreement. As of Dec. 6, the state has approved the agreement, but county approval is still pending.

As rain threatened, 336 Ocean City High School seniors turned their tassels and became alumni June 13. Also in June, former Ocean City Beach Patrol Capt. George Lafferty was honored by lifeguards, who dedicated a race boat in his name. Lafferty, 94, a World War II veteran, died just a month later.

A new City Council was sworn in July 1. A week and a half later, a new fire chief was announced.

Infrastructure was on everyone’s mind in July as City Councilman Keith Hartzell introduced a plan for a special assessment to get Ocean City’s roads repaired. The plan was eventually scrapped.

In July, Ocean City watched as former Red Raider runner Renee Tomlin competed for a spot on the US Olympic team.

And for the first time in its history, the Night in Venice boat parade was interrupted by rain.

In August, the Boardwalk Art Show celebrated its 50th year.

On Aug. 2, a shark took center stage as the 4-foot creature was caught off the Fifth Street jetty. Then again on Aug. 15, just in time for Shark Week, a 7-foot monster was caught at 57th Street.

A retired police officer who worked as a beach patrol supervisor was arrested and charged with second degree sexual assault, and subsequently relieved of his duties as director of beach fees.

After two months of being open, concerns grew over the number of sea gulls being killed on the Route 52 bridge. The fatality rate grew, before dropping off in September.

Sewer leaks shut down beaches three times over the summer.

Squashing the debate in its tracks, City Council voted Aug. 9 against letting the public decide if rainforest wood was good for the boardwalk.

Following in her mother’s footsteps, Devon Vanderslice was named Miss Ocean City 2013 on Aug. 11.

Water damage discovered in August at the Hotel Bellevue led to the city taking on the demolition of the historic hotel in September, but not before a fire engulfed the building, leading to a massive effort to put out the flames.

The lack of sand on south end beaches came to the forefront early in September. The city hauled sand to the area of 56th Street and promised it was working on an agreement for a replenishment project there.

After three months of summer vacation, students returned to Ocean City schools on Sept. 6. At the high school, it was the start of a new rotation schedule, which allowed for longer class periods and a community lunch.

That same day, it was announced that the city’s ethics board vacated its findings against Ocean City Beach Patrol Chief of Operations Thomas Mullineaux.

At its Sept. 11 ceremony, the city revealed a sculpture created from a steel beam recovered from the Twin Towers.

On Sept. 28, Ocean City High School unveiled its observatory.

In October, the city planning board adopted the 2012 master plan re-examination; longtime city publicist Mark Soifer was named Citizen of the Decade by the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce; the Ocean City teachers union and school board agreed to a new contract with a 1.99 percent salary increase; and council began the first of its capital workshops, with one just to focus on roads and drainage.

And let’s not forget, the Helen Schilling estate: the beachfront property debate that has made its presence known throughout 2012, with the latest reincarnation in October when the state gave Ocean City money to try and buy it.

October also saw Ocean City High School cross country teams become county champions.

Then, Hurricane Sandy hit on Monday, Oct. 29. Evacuations were ordered for Sunday, Oct. 28. By Tuesday, Ocean City remained closed off. Ocean City officials estimated public and private damage from Hurricane Sandy at $438 million.
Once residents were allowed back on the island, OCNJ CARE, a nonprofit to aid in recovery, was formed.

Election Day came on Nov. 6 and the school board changed its make up when incumbent Pete Madden was unseated.

Ocean City remembered the late Ted Prior, popular Elvis performer, on Nov. 17 with a star for his dressing room at the Music Pier.

The Ocean City field hockey team defeated Warren Hills to become state champions for the eighth time.

Despite the damage to the downtown from Sandy, what businesses were open participated in the annual Earlier Than the Bird shopping event. New holiday decorations were hung in preparation for the arrival of Santa Claus on Black Friday.

On Nov. 29, City Council passed a resolution supporting a beach fill in the city’s south end where the already-diminishing beaches were devastated by Sandy.

That same meeting, council introduced an ordinance that could change how high homes are built on the island.

In December, the public learned the true cost of Hurricane Sandy as the city prepared a $2.4 million bond ordinance for public property repairs, and authorized an additional $3.6 million in emergency spending. A proposed $10 million capital plan included increased focus on roads and drainage, and a new public safety building.

Council wasn’t pleased when state Senate President Stephen Sweeney and North Jersey Sen. Michael Doherty introduced legislation that would prohibit beach tags in shore towns that get federal or state funds for beach fills.

A missing Ocean City teenager with autism was found safe in Texas.

It was announced that Ocean City High School has a graduation rate of over 99 percent. The district’s involvement in the state’s Excellent Educators for New Jersey pilot program also put Ocean City schools on the map.

In December, the annual state crime report was released. Crime may be up in Cape May County and statewide, but in Ocean City it’s down significantly.

While December isn’t over yet, 2012 is sure to end just as every year ends in Ocean City, with the annual First Night Celebration.

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