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OC council questions proposed long-distance swimming event

(April 5, 2013) The City Council continued this week with a recent trend toward being less permissive with new special events, especially those that seek already-congested times of year and require considerable logistical support from government itself.

The Swim OC long-distance swimming competition was remanded to the Parks and Recreation Commission for more clarification on the event’s needs, and city staff’s concerns about them, after concerns over the strain it would place on the Ocean City Beach Patrol.

The proposed event would involve one-, three-, and nine-mile swimming courses along the coast of the resort, roughly 100 yards offshore, with an estimated 250 participants. The event would benefit brain trauma research and was proposed to be scheduled for July 20.

The event’s organizers, Corey Davis, Dave Speier, and Traci McNeil, are currently in their sixth year of the Nanticoke River Swim, a similar event, without accident or injury.

“It’s a good group of people to have in town,” Speier said.

However, the event would need considerable support from the OCBP to monitor the swimmers, with an estimated extra manpower cost of $1,800. Written comments submitted to the council by the Public Works Department also stressed the impossibility of beach access for vehicles, or to reserving of space at the inlet parking lot, given the congestion of a July weekend.

“July 20 is the peak of our season,” said Councilman Dennis Dare. “You’re making a lot of requests of the city’s Beach Patrol [and] of our EMS. To suggest that we bring on an extra EMT and extra lifeguards to monitor this swim or 250 people … [the OCBP] has 250,000 people on the beach already that they need to monitor.”

Council President Lloyd Martin suggested that a September date may be better, given that the resort will be less congested, lodging will be cheaper and the water will actually retain more of its warmth from the late summer.

However, OCBP Captain Butch Arbin said, “The issues with September are [rougher] surf conditions and that our numbers are way down.”

“The July 20 date, although it is in the middle of the season, is when we’re at our maximum force,” Arbin said. “July 20 was the one date in mid-season where we didn’t have anything going on Beach Patrol-wise.”

Arbin said he had no problems with the event’s setup “from the point of safety.”

OCBP personnel would be using Jet Skis and paddleboards to monitor the swim route, as well as have observers on ATVs on the beach. Arbin was also confident that his input on the event’s qualifying standards would ensure that the swimmers were competent enough to stave off exhaustion or hypothermia.

“We’re already guarding 250,000 people, an extra 250 excellent swimmers isn’t going to make much of a difference,” Arbin said.

Still, the exact size of the commitment from the city’s end for a relatively small event was an issue.

“We’re not saying no, we’d just like more information,” said Council Secretary Mary Knight. “It truly is a worthy cause.”

Council members Brent Ashley and Margaret Pillas voted for the event’s approval, but the motion failed. Pillas then supported a motion to move the issue to the Parks and Recreation Committee.

“At least you’ll have a chance to work it out,” she said.

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