ACT Seeks Public Documents For Explosives Plan

SNOW HILL — While the fate of a proposal to allow testing of military-grade explosives in a remote area of Worcester County along the Chincoteague Bay remains uncertain, a local conservation group this week took steps to help ensure the public is aware of the plan.

Pocomoke-based Hardwire LLC, a locally owned and operated company that develops and manufactures a wide variety of military-grade armor for a variety of uses from buildings and bridges to armaments for the U.S. military, has requested a special exception to utilize a remote area in Worcester County for the detonation of military-grade explosives as part of a testing program. The special exception request was scheduled to come before the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals last night, but before the private sector could make its pitch to the county, the Assateague Coastal Trust (ACT) was already rallying the troops in opposition to the proposal.

Worcester County is considering leasing a portion of the publicly-owned 400-acre tract along the Chincoteague Bay to Hardwire for the detonation of military-grade explosives as part of the company’s testing program for new armor systems. While no one appears to question the validity of the tests and their potential benefit to the armed services, or the economic value of the local company in terms of job creation, ACT is questioning the wisdom of detonating explosives in the environmentally-sensitive testing area.

“Do you think setting off 25-50-pound explosives over and over again in the Resource Protection zone of Worcester County along the Chincoteague Bay is compatible with the general character and intent of the Resource Protection District?” the ACT’s call to action memo reads.

Perhaps more importantly, ACT officials this week questioned the timing of last night’s Board of Zoning Appeals’ hearing on the proposal, contending county citizens were not made aware of the proposal and have not had time to digest its potential implications before a final decision is made. To that end, ACT officials on Wednesday filed Public Information Act (PIA) requests with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Worcester County Planning and Zoning Department requesting all documents related to the proposal.

“The citizens of Worcester County have had less than two weeks to become informed about this issue prior to their only opportunity for public comment, while government officials have apparently been working on this matter for many months,” said Assateague Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips on Wednesday. “We filed the PIA requests today because we feel the members of Assateague Coastal Trust and the citizens of Worcester County do not and will not have adequate facts in hand on Sept. 8 at the BZA hearing to make educated public comment.”

Phillips urged county officials to postpone the BZA hearing on the project to allow time for county residents to carefully review the plan and digest its implications.

“We feel it is irresponsible for the county to take action without informed comment by the public and should allow us time to get the documents requested, review the facts and then provide comment,” she said. “This special exception request goes far beyond the normal BZA hearing to allow a deck or shed to be constructed on a property, or grant a variance for an after-the-fact construction violation. This is a direct attempt to circumvent proper process and proper public comment on a change to our zoning ordinance and our comprehensive plan.”

ACT members were scheduled to attend the BZA hearing on the proposal last night in Snow Hill, during which they planned to request a 90-day extension on any decision to allow the documents requested under the PIA to be received and digested.