By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(Aug. 2, 2018) Residents of the Whitetail Sanctuary in Ocean Pines delivered a series of recommendations to the board regarding the crab pier last Friday, although the directors decided to delay any decision.
During an April board meeting, General Manager John Bailey read from a report from Snow Hill firm J. Stacey Hart and Associates stating the crab pier was “in dire need of replacement.”
Last month, the board voted 5-0 to seek bids to replace the pier, with board review and approval due by Aug. 31.
Homeowner Michael Galello, on Friday, said he represented Whitetail resident and asked those in attendance to stand up. Several dozen or more did so.
According to Galello, the consensus among homeowners was “we like the idea of a crabbing pier in the neighborhood – that’s what attracted us to the community in the first place.”
“So, we don’t blame the overall sentiment of saving the pier, but the difference is the pier is in our backyard. And some of the individuals who want to save it don’t live here to experience the problems we have,” he said.
He said the pier was built in 1997, but had never been maintained. It was constructed as a neighborhood amenity and then deeded to the association about five years later.
“Even after the turnover took place in 2001, the amenity has been forgotten by OPA,” he said.
Galello said 25-40 percent of people who used the pier were outsiders and some were “crabbing and partying at night” despite posted hours from dawn to dusk.
The pier is subject to overcrowding and many guests were drinking and littering, while others ignored rules forbidding boat docking, Galello said.
“People were seen urinating, people smoking marijuana … people were using residents’ driveways for turnarounds and they also parked in residents’ driveways,” he said.
Galello said those using the pier were “walking through residents’ backyards all hours of the night.” He said residents witnessed sexual behavior and found “dog mess left behind.” He said there was risk of drowning, as well as injuries caused by illegally parked cars.
Residents said they witnessed a toddler not wearing a life preserver fall into the water unnoticed by its mother. Galello said he saw a child was “struck to the ground by a car turning … due to illegally parked cars blocking the driver’s view.”
“The purpose of today’s meeting is not about taking away an enjoyable amenity from our OPA members – it’s about sharing 18 years’ worth of experience to help the board make an informed decision and not to potentially waste our hard-earned money and rebuild the same mistake,” he said.
The bottom line, Galello said, is the pier “just doesn’t work in that particular location.”
“It never was designed or permitted based on public access usage, therefore no off-street parking was required by Worcester County or the state,” he said. “Additionally, the pier is located where it can’t be patrolled, because it is in a remote area where an ambulance or a police vehicle cannot get closer than a sixth of a mile from the water’s edge in time to help somebody.
“We feel that it was irresponsible of the OPA board back in 2001 [to] even accept the amenity knowing these conditions,” Galello added.
He said a neighborhood meeting was held on July 14, when 41 of 49 residents attending favored transforming the amenity into a nature preserve modeled after the Assateague National Seashore.
“I’m requesting for the board to study our proposal seriously [and] consider the direct impact for our neighborhood community liability exposure before coming to a final decision,” Galello said.
Additional homeowner comments came from Tom Bissell, who said people using the pier parked in his backyard and left behind trash and beer cans. He said some have gone as far as to ask to use his bathroom.
Jennifer Wagner said the situation was fast approaching a crisis and reiterated the pier was never intended for public use.
“The numbers of people that now arrive at the pier are all hours of the day and night,” she said. “So, we now have a very dangerous situation on our hands.”
Wagner said there have been several close calls when bicyclists, pedestrians and pets were almost struck by cars, “and it’s just a matter of time, really, before something terrible happens to a child or bicyclist or an animal.”
“We’re requesting a solution to the existing unacceptable conditions … and are looking to you, our board, to assist in resolving issues,” she said.
Several directors praised the community members for their involvement.
Association President Doug Parks said he attended the July 14 meeting.
“To me, it was a great example of taking an issue, basically bringing it to everybody’s forefront and attention, [and] getting the people that have the most interest and the most information … into an open dialog,” Parks said. “For all of us who got that information, it was well done.”
General Manager John Bailey said he looked into alternate locations for the pier, including near the swim and racquet club, but had not yet discussed those with county officials or the Department of Natural Resources.
Bailey said a request for proposals to replace the pier was “basically ready to go,” but added, “that’s not what I’m hearing” from residents. As such, he said more time is needed.
“We certainly don’t have an RFP ready to do something different,” Bailey said.
Director Ted Moroney suggested the board “do nothing on it right now.”
“The idea here is to get an informed decision with all of the information out there,” Moroney said. “What I would say is go ahead and get [the request for proposals] prepared … then we get all the pricing back, all of the problems plus and minus, and make that decision based on the overall best interest for the association.”