By Dan Moffett
The large seawall project in Ocean Ridge has grown larger, but town officials remain confident work will be completed by the end of March to avoid interfering with turtle nesting season.
Town Manager Tracey Stevens said the state Department of Environmental Protection has approved the construction of three more seawalls in order to close the protection gap near Anna Street.
The walls will go behind the properties at 6059, 6057 and 6029 Old Ocean Blvd. No other seawall extensions are likely to be considered by the DEP, Stevens told the Town Commission during its Feb. 1 meeting.
The project has forced the closure of two public crossovers to the beach at Anna and Edith streets, and some residents in the neighborhood have objected. Last month, residents complained that the contractor was moving heavy construction equipment along the beach instead of using the crossover access points as some believed the town intended.
Stevens said closing the crossovers didn’t mean the contractor would keep heavy equipment off the beach.
“One of the reasons we closed both crossovers was to give the contractor the ability to complete both projects simultaneously while keeping beachgoers as safe as possible during construction,” Stevens said. “The movement of equipment along the beach was never precluded.”
She said the crossover access allows the contractor to keep busy even during high tides and ensures the project will be completed on a tight schedule.
Mayor Kristine de Haseth has urged residents to be patient and consider the importance of the project.
“Those seawalls are the first line of defense for the entire town,” she said.
In other business, commissioners gave Stevens high marks during her evaluation as she begins her third year as manager. She worked two years as town clerk before rising to her current position.
“Tracey’s transition to town manager has been seamless,” de Haseth wrote in the evaluation. “Our town is lucky to have her leadership and dedication.”
Vice Mayor Steve Coz advised Stevens to “work on the talent of motivating others in a team mentality versus a boss mentality.”
Coz said: “She is on a learning curve that so far is working out reasonably for Tracey, the commission and the town. I only expect Tracey to continue to improve. … Great managers aren’t made overnight.”
Commissioners Susan Hurlburt and Martin Wiescholek commended Stevens for her performance during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Hurlburt said: “Tracey has steered Ocean Ridge through these arduous times with strong leadership, perseverance, dedication and good cheer.”
Wiescholek said he “could not be happier” with her performance and said she showed “exceptional skills” in coping with “some complex problems.”
Commissioner Phil Besler, who is stepping down from the commission next month, worried about the town’s finances down the road.
“You need to work harder to get the budget back to a surplus,” Besler told the manager. “The future is going to be tougher than the past as there are major infrastructure issues coming.”
Besler also said the town’s evaluation forms tend to be skewed toward unreasonably high ratings and encouraged the commission to consider changing the format.