SNOW HILL — Deterred by public outcry, Hardwire CEO George Tunis decided Tuesday to withdraw his company’s request to use county-owned property in Newark to test explosives. However, Tunis criticized those members of the community who he believes overreacted and exaggerated the issue.
“During this process, I have been surprised by a few specific individual’s public display of sensationalism and engineering ignorance,” wrote Tunis in a letter to the Worcester County Commissioners.
Tunis singled out those who used imagery relating the testing his company would do at a Newark firing range to “nuclear explosions and narratives of jackhammers in people’s ears.” Living near the proposed site himself, Tunis says that he was disturbed by the amount of misinformation and falsities associated with what his company wanted to do. The explosive testing, which was approved last month by the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), would generate sounds not much louder than a rifle shot, claimed Tunis.
That level of noise, he added, would be rare, only occurring with the largest explosive tests, which could not be done more than a few times a week. Most testing was set to be done on scale models with explosive charges of only a few pounds. The general fear of noise pollution blanketing the area around the site was “ridiculous,” according to Tunis.
“It’s ok to say you won’t make the minuscule sacrifice to hear a loud noise once in a while to help protect American lives,” wrote Tunis to his critics, “but just come out and say it.”
Seashore not C-4, a group of those same critics formed after the BZA approved Hardwire’s request, felt that Tunis was being unfair.
“Mr. Tunis’ response in his letter today is insulting to this community,” the group wrote in a letter to the editor. “Many of whom have served in the military or in law enforcement, have loved ones who have served, and yes, have loved ones we have lost during their service to their communities and country.”
The group was satisfied that, whatever Tunis’ reasons, his company was withdrawing its request. They did, however, ask his support in dissolving the original BZA decision, since it leaves the door open for another company to come in and use the Newark site for explosive testing.
“Our concern is that even if Hardwire chooses not to use the site as a military testing facility,” continued the letter, “the special exception approval remains valid for a year and it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the BZA to turn down another similar application at this location, or other Resource Protection zoned properties in Worcester County.”
Seashore claimed last week it would take the BZA decision to court if it was not dismissed.
Though Tunis promised during the original hearing that his company would remain in the county whether they get to use the Newark range or not, County Commissioner Virgil Shockley still believes Worcester will be losing valuable jobs and employment options with Hardwire relocating the test site.
“My hope is that he will stay here in Pocomoke,” said Shockley.
Shockley also addressed the near-hysteria that gripped some neighbors of the proposed site.
“We [the commissioners] weren’t signing any lease or anything until there was a test,” he revealed. “I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.”
In his letter, Tunis mentioned inviting the public to witness the first few tests to give them an accurate idea of what noise will be like as well as to show them what kind of impact, if any, testing would have on the environment. However, due to the intensity of negative criticism the site has already received before the first charge was even detonated, Tunis felt that withdrawing the request to use the range would be the simplest thing for everybody.
“Fear of the unknown is usually best battled with simple reality,” wrote Tunis. “That is now lost. The range will continue to operate, as it has in the past, completely exempt and unlimited.”
Shockley also felt that the saber rattling among some in the community was premature.
“The guy was found guilty without ever having any kind of trial,” he said.
For better or worse, Tunis will be relocating the site, and he said there are plenty of options in other areas. He ended his letter with a thank you to his supporters and a parting shot at his vocal detractors.
“For those of you that supported the effort, thank you,” he wrote, “… for the rest, I am sorry you will not experience the pride of knowing you helped when you could have.”
Seashore again felt Tunis’ comments rubbed against the grain.
“This community has been very forthright in praising the work Hardwire does to protect our law enforcement, and military, men and women,” said their letter.
However, with each side critical of the other, the Seashore group was at least willing to “applaud” Tunis’ “recognition that the public property at the end of Langmaid Road, in Newark, Md., is not an appropriate site for a privately-operated military testing facility.”