The groaning of a bulldozer could be heard above the pounding of the surf today as Major Harry E. Kelley Jr. surveyed the damage from last week's storm and pondered his next move in his war against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The tropical storm that sent 15 foot high waves crashing into Ocean City' a week ago washing millions of tons of sand from the beach into the ocean.
Kelley's solution to the problem has been to hire bulldozers to push the sand out of the ocean and back on to the shore, an action he said is necessary to protect the high-rise condominiums, motels, hotels and beach houses that line the nine miles of beach in this famous Atlantic resort town.
The Army Engineers, which is responsible for the nation's shorelines, wants to restrict the bulldozing to the hardest hit area, fearing too much dredging will harm marine life.
But Kelley has ordered nine bulldozers to work along the entire 130 ocean blocks, insisting that "the engineers don't know a thimble full about beach erosion."
John P. O'Hagan, chief of the operations division of the corps in Baltimore, sent a telegram to Kelley yesterday ordering him to limit the bulldozing to the area between 30th and 96th Streets.
Kelley said the corps is acting on the recommendations of "a young biologist who doesn't know his . . . from a hole in the sand."
So the mayor promptly ignored the restriction and dispatched bulldozers to six locations along the beach today, at 18th, 25th, 95th, 118th, and 130th Streets.
M. R. Stevens, public affairs officer for the corps. said both the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Department of Interior oppose the bulldozing for fear it will damage marine life.
Stevens said the corps might be willing to compromise with Kelley by issuing a one-year permit to see if the bulldozing is effective and if it does damage to marine life. But Kelley will not even talk to the corps any more.
"I am reluctantly going to ignore the federal red tape," Kelley announced today after a special meeting of the Ocean City City Council, which supported his stand. "We will continue at least until we are physically restrained.
"We are placing the safety of our people and their property above the remote possibility of temporary disturbance to any significant population of mole crabs, mussels, clams or other such creatures," Kelley said.
"We regret that we find it necessary to make a temporary incursion into a nature system. We will regret going to jail if that is where we go," Kelley said. "But if we did nothing and our inaction resulted in injury or damage, whether on a small scale or in diaster porporation, we would regret that inaction more than all the other regrets. The choice is difficult but clear" Kelley concluded. "We are going to restore the beaches and dunes that protect our city."
Kelley previously has defended his tourist-conscious city against oil spills, topless bathers and traffic problems with the zeal of the small town mayor who covered up an invasion of a shark in "Jaws."
Today kelley stood on the beach front, his brow furrowed like the piles of sand being pushed along by the bulldozers, and vowed to "go to jail" before bowing to the engineers' order.
Last week's 50-knot winds washed hundreds of tons of sand into the ocean and water crashed into sea walls and piers. At the Oceana condominium, the water tore awaypart of sidewalk and undermined the building's parking lot, suspending a Thunderbid between two piles of beach over ten-feet deep.