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Officials seek to manage moving sand in Ocean City Cruise with Gilchrest focuses on channels


ABOARD THE O.C. PRINCESS -- The first question was the easiest to answer at a meeting convened yesterday by Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest to address the clogging of Ocean City's bays and channels.

"How do you spell stabilization -- is it I-L or A-L?" asked Ann Horner Granados, a member of Ocean City's Dune Stabilization Committee, as she signed the guest book.

Definitive answers to the other questions raised about the continual buildup of sand in the resort's boating channels, and the concurrent erosion of Assateague Island, however, proved considerably more elusive during a free-ranging discussion among two dozen federal, state, county and town officials on board for the three-hour cruise.

"We want to see if we can fix the problem by infusing a whole range of ideas," Gilchrest, the Republican who represents the Eastern Shore in Congress, told the group as the boat pulled away from the dock.

Gilchrest organized the meeting after Pat Schrawder, president of a local citizens' group called BayWatch, expressed concern about Assateague and the "back bays," the local term for the bodies of water on Ocean City's western side.

"We do believe Assateague is at a critical point of breaching," Schrawder said.

Storms and erosion have diminished the island's northern end. Simultaneously, a steady buildup of sand has created an ebb shoal near the Ocean City inlet and made the channel so shallow that many boats must zigzag around the channel so they don't run aground, she said.

She and other resort residents expressed concern that the Army Corps of Engineers, which is charged with beach replenishment and keeping the federal channels clear, is not moving quickly enough to counter sand buildup in the back bays.

The Corps of Engineers has put the replenishment of Assateague on a "fast track," and it is scheduled to begin next year, she said. But plans for clearing the channels and devising a long-term strategy to cope with the continually shifting sands around the resort, have not been given the same priority.

"With respect to the continual buildup of sand in the bay, the flattening of Assateague, we do not have the luxury of time," Schrawder said.

She and others urged that the beach replenishment project managed by the Army Corps of Engineers consider dredging the channels more often and using the unwanted sand to build up the beaches.

As a model, she pointed to the back-pass dredging system being used by Indian River in Delaware, 15 miles up the coastal highway from Ocean City. In that project, sand is taken from the channels and deposited on nearby beaches -- keeping the channels clear and the beaches replenished, she said.

But two representatives from the Corps of Engineers, who spoke after Schrawder, said the Indian River model can't be duplicated in Ocean City because the sand must be moved so far away

from where it is collected.

Because of a fast north current at the island's tip, the sand would have to be deposited a mile or two south, -- and that makes the back-pass option less feasible and more expensive, said Stacey Marek of the Corps of Engineers.

"There's really no quick, easy solution," she said.

By the end of the cruise, Gilchrest had identified the main area of concern -- the channels around the inlet -- and promised to push the Corps' director in Washington to expedite dredging in the area.

Pub Date: 12/13/96

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