The Corps of Engineers Responds
Through authorities associated with Public Law 875, passed in 1950, and in support of the newly-formed federal Office of Emergency Planning (a sort of pre-cursor to present-day FEMA), the Corps went to work assessing impacts from the Ash Wednesday Storm.
In Maryland, Baltimore District personnel worked with local partners and started planning the emergency restoration of the impacted beach and dunes in Ocean City and the closing of the larger breach in Assateague Island.
Personnel worked with the Maryland State Roads Commission to map out alignment for an emergency barrier and work began quickly to identify suitable sand sources for dune and berm construction.
Work began that August to construct beach berm and dune along approximately 8 miles of oceanfront from the state line between Delaware and Maryland to 2nd Street near the north side of Ocean City Inlet.
Berms and dunes work together to reduce risks to coastal communities behind them. The elevated, flat and wide beach berm reduces wave energy while dunes reduce damage from inundation. The dunes also act as a barrier to help reduce flooding and storm damage caused by storm surge, wave runup, and overtopping.
Two dredges and crews on water and land worked 24/7 to pump 1.05 million cubic yards of material on the beach, fashioned into a beach berm and dune system to reduce risks from future coastal storms and allow the community to rebuild with an increased sense of safety.
They ultimately built a system with a 20-foot wide dune at 12 feet above Mean Low Water with a wide flat 50-foot wide berm in front of it at 10 feet above Mean Low Water that stretched from near the north jetty of Ocean City Inlet to the Maryland-Delaware line. This emergency line of protection was quickly built between August 1962 and January 1963, along with 42,000 linear feet of sandfencing to help the dune trap sand and accrete over time.
According to notes in the 1963 report on “Operation Five-High,” two reasons for delays during construction were finding suitable material, in both grain size and economical distance to be pumped ashore, and in acquiring the necessary easements from property owners to the north.
Baltimore District’s drill team and contractors took 100 samples from nearby potential sand sources to ensure material placed was suitable. All of the material placed was taken from nearby borrow sites in Assawoman Bay, Isle of Wight Bay and Sinepuxent Bay.
At this time, Ocean City only extended north to 41st Street, as Ocean City’s annexation of the land north to the state line didn’t take place until 1965. This meant that Worcester County, responsible for securing the necessary easements from local property owners, had to get permission from several private property owners in order for the work to move forward. This was initially slow going, but once work began where easements had been granted, locals could see the wider beach and dunes being built and began requesting to be added to the project.
Assateague Island Breach Closure
While this work was going on, Baltimore District personnel were also addressing the enlarged Assateague Island breach just south of Ocean City Inlet.
Due to its location, it was negatively impacting the federal channel in Sinepuxent Bay behind the breach, and the determination was made to mechanically close the breach with sand.
A contract was awarded in the first week of April for the pumping of 1.5 million cubic yards of sand to plug the breach. The sand came from nearby Ocean City Inlet and Sinepuxent Bay. This contract provided the added benefit of improving navigation by clearing out channels. Crews also installed 4,200 feet of sandfencing to aid in the accretion of sand on Assateague Island.
Because the smaller, newer barrier island breach further south was not impacting any navigation channels, the Corps had no authority to directly mechanically close it. However, sand from the breach closure to the north naturally drifted southward and eventually closed that breach as well.
This was the first of the Corps’ direct involvement in sand placement and work on the beach in Ocean City, but it would ultimately be a precursor to a relationship that continues to reap benefits today.
(This is part two of a three-part series about the historic Ash Wednesday Storm and the later construction of the Corps of Engineers coastal storm risk management project in Ocean City, Maryland. Tomorrow, the conclusion of the series touches on the development of the existing Atlantic Coast of Maryland Shoreline Protection Project and its current status.)