Ocean City Mayor Harry W. Kelley, who defied the Army Corps of Engineers last winter by hiring bulldozers to push sand from the ocean floor onto the beach, came to the Capitol yesterday vowing to continue to ignore federal regulations if it is necessary to prevent erosion in his tourist dependent Maryland town.
Damn the environmental impact statements, damn the red tape, and especially, damn the Army Corps of Engineers, Kelley thundered. He said he is going full speed ahead on dredging sand from the ocean floor to refurbish the eroding shoreline of his popular resort.
Kelley found a perfect, if unwilling, foil in Col. K. W. Withers district engineer of the corps, whom the smalltown mayor denounced for "not knowing beans from bullfoot" about beach problems.
The meeting at the Capitol was called by Kelley's congressman, Rep. Robert E. Bauman (R-Md.) to explore ways of shortcutting the tedious procedure required to get a federal permit to allow sand to be pumped from the ocean this fall to stabilize the 10 miles of beach that make Ocean City, in Kelley's words, "the world's most popular family resort."
Kelley and Withers sat at opposite ends of a long table, separated by Senators Paul S. Sarbanes and Charles McC. Mathias, and Reps. Barbara Mikulski, Marjorie Holt and Bauman. At one point, Kelley paused after waving his finger angrily at Withers and admitted "people have called me rude, crude, brazen and arrogant, and I think that's true."
"You're being modest," quipped Bauman.
Undeterred, Kelley went on to describe how he watched last winter as 27 separate storms came out of the northeast and battered the resort. "Water hit the boardwalk and squirted up like a fountain."
Mikulski, a Baltimore Democrat, asked Withers what it would have taken for the corps to grant an emergency permit for repair work to be done in the wake of a hurricane or devastating storm.
The uniformed colonel took off his eyeglasses, twirled them in his hand and said that to supercede regulations "required by Section 404," the president would have to declare Ocean City a disaster area.
Kelley thundered that if his crews had not ignored the corps regulations and gone ahead with bulldozing, those 27 storms would have caused $80 million to $100 million in damage, and a possible loss of lives.
"If Harry hadn't acted," interjected attorney Warren Rich, "Ocean City could have qualifed for emergency aid. That's insane."
Several other members of Kelley's nine-member entourage - the city council and Worcester County commissioners chartered two small planes for the trip - agreed, mumbling "ridiculous, absurd."
"Sheer folly, chimed in Kelley, adding, "it's a shame the sunset law didn't include them," jerking his thumb menacingly in Wither's direction.
Withers, who managed a few smiles among the grimaces during the almost two-hour meeting, explained that the corps must complete a study before it can recommend which of eight potential plans is the best way to attack the erosion problem. The House has approved $300,000 for the study, but it still needs action by the Senate.
The eight proposals, ranging in cost from $8 million to $24 million, all call for doing what Kelley wants to begin this fall - pumping sand from the ocean to make the beach higher and wider.
"Once funded," Withers told Sarbanes, it will take the corps one year to complete the study and two more years to get approval of the various federal agencies before work can begin.
"I don't need a study," bellowed Kelley. "The Lord gave me a set of eyes." Besides that, he said, "any topographic study done today ain't worth a nickel tomorrow" because of the unpredictable shifting of winds and sand. "Take that $300,000 away from them and give it to us and we'll start dredging."