Grassroots Group Rails Against Approved Explosives Testing Range

SNOW HILL- Barely a month after the Worcester County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) originally granted Hardwire LLC the right to test explosives at a Newark firing range, several property owners in the area have banded together to protest and are asking the BZA to reopen the case.

Calling themselves “Seashore not C-4,” some members have already sought legal counsel.

“Our counsel has identified several serious legal defects in the application,” said Seashore member Stacy Simpson, “and we are again asking that the BZA reopen the proceeding to consider these defects, and to allow us to present expert testimony regarding the serious impacts that this use will have in the Newark and surrounding communities, including South Point.”

Due to the need for sufficient public advertisement, the BZA couldn’t legally reopen the case at their meeting Thursday, even if they wished to. However, they did agree to discuss the possibility of a second case during that meeting. If the board chooses not to give the matter another look, then it will wind up before a judge, according to Simpson.

“If this letter does not result in re-opening the hearing,” Simpson explained, “we will be forced to move forward with an appeal to Circuit Court.”

According to attorney Ben Wechsler, who represents several landowners who live on Langmaid Road, an area near the proposed testing site, there are a number of issues he believes justify reopening the case.

“It’s a matter of due process,” he said.

In a letter to the BZA, Wechsler outlined three main points, which, he asserts put the original ruling in question. Firstly, Wechsler contends that the board “improperly relied” on a section of the zoning code dealing with special exemptions when they made their original ruling. Secondly, he believes that “it was improper for the applicant and the BZA to rely on historic use of the site to detonate military ordinance by governmental agencies.” Finally, Wechsler argues that the BZA should reopen the case to allow expert witnesses and additional evidence not presented during the original hearing.

“People were caught off guard,” he said of last month’s ruling.

Not enough input from reliable sources regarding what kind of pollution, noise and otherwise, was provided, argued Wechsler.

“Noise levels are a great concern,” said John Harrison, a member of Seashore and one of Wechsler’s clients.

Harrison worries that testing explosives only a few miles away from his home will ruin aspects of the area, such as the natural quiet, and could also have a negative impact on the environment.

“It [the area] will never be the same if they do that [testing],” he said. “Who’s going to want to buy property next to a military testing range?” asked Harrison

Seashore is a direct response to that concern, said Harrison, who believes the group, which he estimated at 35 members earlier this week, will likely continue to grow until a final decision on Hardwire is reached.

“There are a lot of very upset people,” he said. “The group is very, very serious.”

Many of the concerns expressed by Harrison are reiterations of what was said at the original BZA hearing. At the time, George Tunis, CEO of Hardwire, likened the sound level from explosive testing at the site to that of a gunshot, a common sound in the area during hunting season. He explained that, because of the size of the explosive charges, which have a company-imposed limit of 25 pounds for Newark testing, and the fact that the explosives will go off in a dirt filled pit, noise levels will top out at about 181 decibels. That level of sound would be comparable to a rifle shot.

And those levels, added Tunis, will only be for the largest explosives, which will only be tested a few times a week at most. Depending upon weather conditions and distance from the site, the decibel level could be much lower.

What impact, if any, testing might have on the environment was also touched upon. The site is located within a Resource Protection District. Because of that, Tunis plans on bringing in fresh topsoil to cover the testing pit before every set of detonations. Also, Hardwire claims that the explosives they will use, mostly TNT and C-4, are “clean” and won’t release much in the way of harmful particles into the air.

While Hardwire’s presentation satisfied the BZA the first time around, Harrison and others remain skeptical and continue to demand a second look. They want to bring in a host of experts they believe will refute Hardwire’s claims regarding noise and environmental impact. As of the writing of this article, the BZA has not decided on whether or not it will reopen the case based upon the points presented by Wechsler in his letter. What Wechsler is hoping for is a 60-90 continuance on the case, which could be used to “get everyone fully up to speed with what’s going on.”

Failing that, however, he asserted that his clients are more than willing to settle the matter in court.

Neither Tunis nor BZA attorney Dave Gaskill could be reached for comment on this article.