Ocean Friendly Gardens, Basic Class
September 26 2014

Surfrider Activist Convinces City Council To Go Ocean Friendly

Surfrider-South Jersey activist, Bill Steumpfig, attended the 2013 Surfrider-East Coat Chapters Conference to learn more about the Ocean Friendly Gardens Program. Bill’s interest was sparked partially by plans to re-build his home in Ocean City, New Jersey that was destroyed by Super Storm Sandy. When an Ocean City Councilman proposed requiring grass and irrigation in the parkway strip for new development and major redevelopment in order to “improve flood mitigation,” Bill got angry (Photo credit: Ocean City Sentinel newspaper, 9-22-14). This strip is typically just 3 feet wide and sprinklers would spray onto the street, creating runoff & wasting water. The city code requires a raised wooden border next to sidewalks and cement walkways to keep required mulch in place. An Ocean Friendly Gardens approach was needed.

Bill presented a plan to the Chapter that had short-term goals of getting their sphere of influence to apply OFG ideas to their own yards, and longer-term goals of getting municipalities to adopt more responsible guidelines to control runoff through OFGs.

As a barrier island, Ocean City can be prone to flooding. According to the councilman who introduced the grass and irrigation proposal, the sod would both help reduce flooding and keep the grass looking good, given that the majority of homes are vacation homes. The local resident whom the councilman credits with inspiring him to craft the ordinance was concerned with people filling in the parkway strips with concrete. Ironically, the native plants she has installed in her strip would not be allowed under the proposal. Another councilman countered that irrigation systems were not needed in a wet climate, saying that: “It’s like buying a car with a roof rack when you don’t need it.” (Citation - this local newspaper’s article: http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/communities/upper_capemay/ocean-city-may-require-sod-irrigation-for-curb-strips/article_f6128180-42a4-11e4-b55b-57e2ae142abf.html)

The City Council passed the first reading of an ordinance. Bill sprung into action and spoke at the second reading at a following OC City Council meeting, promoting the use of native plants and how to conserve water in yards. It paid off. The Council tabled the proposed grass/irrigation ordinance and agreed to meet with Bill to discuss a way forward. OFG was introduced and well received. Bill met with many like-minded people after the meeting. The Council seemed to like his low-key, but urgent approach. (Photo credit: Press of Atlantic City newspaper, 9-26-14)

Bill then spoke about OFG at Ocean City Environmental Commission & found support. Two OC councilmen were there and listened to alternatives to grass and irrigation. Bill presented OFG ideas, along with photos of existing native yards in Ocean City. Everyone thought that the grounds of the local community center (Bayside Center) should be retrofitted to be an OFG and use natives! This would serve as environmentally friendly examples for homeowners and landscapers. Bill sees it as a great opportunity for Surfrider to do an OFG and spread the methods all over OC.

The next step is to work with the councilmen on a set of guidelines that includes responsible plant and water use. Bill will look to one Surfrider member who is a landscaper that wants to push OFGs. Bill also knows of a few nurseries that are good sources for native plants and will help fund projects.