By MADDY VITALE
Nearly 10 years ago, the flood-prone Merion Park neighborhood began serving as a model for the way Ocean City would protect the rest of the town, from floodwater, for the future.
It was the first neighborhood to begin using pumping stations to flush stormwater off the streets much faster than it normally would take for the water to recede back into the bay.
But the pumping stations and other drainage improvements installed in 2014 were considered the first phase of the Merion Park project.
All these years later, the second phase is gearing up to complete the project and give residents what they have been waiting for — relief from chronic flooding.
“The first phase of the project was done almost 10 years ago. There are certain parts of Merion Park that still flood significantly,” said City Councilman Bob Barr, who represents the Fourth Ward, which includes Merion Park.
Barr continued, “We need to get this done. People have been waiting, and I am really excited to see this project finally moving forward. It has been a long time coming. Hopefully, we can finally see it through to the finish line.”
Merion Park’s second phase may include three or four new pumping stations, according to preliminary plans.
Pumping stations intercept floodwater and channel it back into the bay much faster than it would normally take to drain off the streets after a coastal storm, heavy rains, or high tides.
Mayor Jay Gillian announced during Thursday’s City Council meeting that there is a timeline for the project.
“Our project schedule is to go out to bid this summer, with construction possibly in the fall,” Gillian said. “We are looking to have a meeting with the neighborhood, possibly next month, no later than April, to review the project and details prior to finalizing the design.”
This week, the city received an update from Michael Baker International, the engineering firm designing plans for flood mitigation work at Merion Park.
“The firm will be submitting permit applications and finalizing plans this spring,” Gillian noted. “We expect to open bids and award a contract by September, and construction would begin in fall 2023.”
Since the first ones were installed in 2014 in Merion Park, pumping stations have been strategically placed by the city throughout other areas of town as part of a broad strategy to ease chronic flooding in neighborhoods.
Ocean City plans to spend about $25 million over five years for flood control citywide, which was announced in December 2020.
The citywide plan includes new pumping stations, road construction, drainage systems, berms, retention walls and other measures to prevent stormwater from inundating parts of the low-lying island.
The city is partnering with Cape May County on the Merion Park project, which also includes work to elevate Roosevelt Boulevard and other nearby county roads to ease flooding. That project is expected to begin in 2024.
“I’m looking forward to seeing this project come to fruition,” Gillian said.
According to plans, the Roosevelt Boulevard-34th Street artery will be raised along a 1.6-mile stretch from Bay Avenue in Ocean City to the Garden State Parkway entrance in Marmora.
Nearly a decade ago, the city finished the first phase of the Merion Park flood mitigation project. It included three new stormwater pumping stations, drainage pipes, and road reconstruction.
After that, there were some funding issues and the second phase was put on hold, officials said.
With the second phase anticipated to start next year, Merion Park homeowners who have waited patiently for more flood mitigation will see added protection from stormwater by 2024, officials said.