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Ocean City: The cleaner, greener, socially responsible vacation destination? | COMMENTARY

By most accounts, it’s been a somewhat stressful summer in Maryland’s Atlantic Ocean resort. It’s peak season, and tourists are back in abundance despite the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. But a lack of job seekers has meant attractions are frequently understaffed. In June, a video of Ocean City police violently arresting several Black teens for vaping in an undesignated area drew national attention. And, to top it off, a 12-year-old recently suffered injuries requiring 42 stitches from a possible shark attack in shallow waters off 119th Street. This happened the same week that six deep-sea fishermen had to be rescued after their 65-foot boat sank 60 miles offshore while participating in the local White Marlin Open.

The good news is that these matters can be addressed. As the economy finds equilibrium — and Ocean City perhaps provides more affordable housing for its seasonal workers — the labor shortage can be overcome. The town is moving forward with police body cameras ahead of the 2025 deadline set by state law, which should cause officers to think twice before overreacting. And, mercifully, sightings of any shark big and aggressive enough to star in Jaws 5 continue to be rare in local waters (although the Maryland Department of Natural Resources still advises coastal visitors to not swim near people who are fishing at dusk or dawn).

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The bad news is that two of Ocean City’s more glaring shortcomings are not getting properly addressed at all, and it’s
denying the town a tremendous economic opportunity.

Last month, some environmental advocates called for a boycott of Ocean City over its choice to suspend recycling more than a decade ago to, instead, send the bulk of its trash to a waste-to-energy incinerator located in Chester, Pennsylvania, a low-income community of color. The protest over air pollution from trash burning doesn’t appear to have had much impact, however: Last Monday, the Ocean City Council voted unanimously to continue the incineration contract for as long as five years. Meanwhile, the same council has proven itself solidly reluctant to see multiple off-shore wind farms built to create clean, renewable power, despite claiming to support the overall concept. Their beef? Only that the turbines, under the right weather conditions, would be visible from the beach. Given that the closest of the windmills might be 13 miles away under one developer’s plan, this objection would seem greatly overstated.

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Yet there is a relatively easy solution to these conflicts, too. What Ocean City needs most of all is a rebranding. Forget the sales pitches of the past like “Rodney the Lifeguard” or this year’s “10 Miles of Memories”; how about one that demonstrates that Ocean City cares about climate change? This should not be a stretch. After all, the town sits right in the path of destruction as sea level rise continues and weather events become more severe. Reducing Ocean City’s carbon footprint isn’t just a pleasant thought (although about two-thirds of Americans support stronger government action in that arena), but a matter of sheer survival on the vulnerable front line where surf meets sand.

So here’s the idea: Advertise Ocean City as the socially responsible vacation choice. You can visit and feel good about your impact on the planet. See those turbines in the far distance? They were fabricated in good old Sparrows Point, and their presence means no coal-fired power plant is fueling your condo’s central air conditioning. Switching gears on recycling to not only allow reinstate it, but make it mandatory and offer composting too, would mean not only an end to trash burning but less methane production from local landfills. And, while we’re OC dreaming, how about throwing in greener building standards and an all-electric bus fleet? This is capitalism of the 21st century. It comes down to dollars and sense — as in common sense.

So, visit Ocean City, where your biggest impact on Mother Nature is a footprint in the sand (and she doesn’t mind a bit).

You can have that one for free, Mayor Rick Meehan.

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Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom

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