OCEAN CITY -- Most children know that a big bad wolf can blow down a house made of straw.
But when it comes to beaches, Glenn Page is counting on something that looks a lot like straw to keep wind and water from flattening man-made dunes as though they're just so much -- sand.
Two weeks after the Jan. 4 northeaster devastated 80 percent of the dunes built to protect Ocean City property from storm damage, Mr. Page and a crew of 14 resumed planting tiny couplets of beach grass along the battered seashore.
A director of field operations for Towson-based Ecological Restoration and Management Inc., Mr. Page said much more of the dunes would have withstood the storm's fury had grass plantings been mature.
ERM was awarded a $750,000 subcontract to plant grass, erect protective snow fencing and build beach crossovers as part of the overall $44 million beach replenishment project.
Last year ERM's beach crew planted nearly 600,000 grass culms on dunes from 27th Street to 103rd Street. A culm consists of two identical grasses planted as a pair.
Mr. Page said the two plants -- American beach grass and Atlantic coastal panic grass -- need about three years for their root systems to develop into an underground network sufficiently strong to retain sand buffeted by wind and wave.
Even though the Jan. 4 storm essentially wiped out nearly all the grasses planted last year, Mr. Page said the surviving grasses showed the beginnings of a tenacious root network.
"The root systems are incredible, much beyond our expectations," hesaid.
Mr. Page said beach officials had considered suspending the grass-planting project since the storm, but ERM talked them into going ahead with the work since the costs were covered in the subcontract.
Ocean City Manager Dennis W. Dare agreed that replacing the grass as soon as possible could have beneficial results in the future as long as another storm does not set back the planting project.
The ERM crew is concentrating on portions of the remaining dunes that were left relatively undamaged by the storm.