The St. Mary's County commissioners gathered at the Wicomico River on a sunny, blustery afternoon this week to cut the ribbon on a new pier and erosion control project.

The project to stabilize the banks of the Wicomico Shores public landing and to build a new boat ramp began more than five years ago, but in 2003, after Hurricane Isabel destroyed the large pier that jutted into the water from the public park, officials decided to consolidate the upgrades and repairs into one $640,000 project.

Along the river's edge, marsh grass was planted to help stabilize the soil and act as a filter. Piles of rocks to break the waves now stretch about 1,000 feet down the shore. A roughly 700-foot-long portion of the pier has been completed, but a 500-foot segment must still be rebuilt.

The river also was dredged to make the new boat ramp more accessible. Some of the material dredged out of the river was used to rebuild tee boxes on the nearby Wicomico Shores Golf Course, said Phil Rollins, director of the county's parks and recreation department.

Left with the lemons of a storm-ravaged beachfront, the county has been able to "make lemonade out of it," Commissioners President Thomas F. McKay (R-At Large) said at the ceremony Tuesday afternoon. McKay said the project "represents the best" of the county commissioners' ability to work together to get things done.

The glow in which the commissioners basked was not just sunshine. "We just can't thank them [commissioners] enough," said Chico Rivers, president of the Wicomico Shores property owners association. Hurricane Isabel, he said, "completely wiped out the beach" of the popular park, used frequently by members of the Amish community and residents of the 460-home neighborhood.

Three-fourths of the funding for the project came from a grant from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Waterway Improvement Program, paid for by taxes on boat owners, and the rest came from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and St. Mary's County.