Dynamic Sustainability: Maryland's Atlantic Coast

Photo of ponies on Assateague Island


Ocean City and Assateague Island

Dynamic Sustainability: Shoreline Management on Maryland's Atlantic Coast

1963-1980, Different Trajectories, Similar Problems

Ocean City

Ocean City continued to build more developments after the Five-High Storm to compensate for the damage and provide for the increasing number of visitors. In the mid 1960s the town annexed the land northward to the Delaware state line and began building there as well. But as a narrow spit of land, the space for development was limited so developers created more land by filling the bay side wetlands.

Citizens and officials began to protest the destruction of wetlands. The Maryland Wetlands Act of 1970 regulated the alteration of wetlands, and the Clean Water Act of 1972 authorized the Corps to regulate dredging and filling operations. Likewise, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970 mandated environmental impact assessments and the adoption of the least environmentally damaging option for development.

Congress directed the Corps to begin a study of erosion along the Atlantic coast of Maryland shortly after the Five-High Storm. This study began earnestly investigating the possibility of a large-scale beach nourishment project as a long-term response to the continuing erosion problem.

The town of Ocean City tried to implement its own beach nourishment techniques. The mayor at the time rescinded the town's support for the Corps' beach nourishment plan twice in the early 1970s and instead directed the town to build more groins along the beach. He also advocated bulldozing sand from the nearshore waters onto the beach.

In 1975 an ordinance was passed that established a building line on the beach across which no structures could be built for risk of erosion damage. Then in 1978, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) granted its support to the Corps beach nourishment plan and a feasibility study was initiated.

The Corps released its findings in 1980, and the study advocated a large-scale, 50-year beach nourishment project that entailed enlarging the beach with dredged sand, building a steel bulkhead along the boardwalk at the southern end of town, and building a line of dunes from the northern end of the boardwalk all the way to the Delaware state line.

More: Ocean City | Ocean City Inlet | Assateague

Reviewed 27 Sep 2016

Ocean City on Fenwick Island

Ocean City on Fenwick Island
Source: IAN Image Library

Growing Awareness

The growing national emphasis on environmental preservation and protection became an important issue at Ocean City and it involved local, state, and Federal agencies, including the Corps.

The National Shoreline Study, completed in 1971, highlighted how erosion was widespread across all the coasts of the U.S. This study also determined that recreational beaches were economically and socially important and that beach nourishment was often the best option for combating erosion.