Former Councilman Challenges Utility Expansion Process

OCEAN CITY – Delmarva Power & Light’s proposed expansion of its substation in north Ocean City, which has been the subject of extensive debate in recent weeks, provided a rather chippy exchange between a former councilman and the town’s attorney.

Delmarva Power & Light (DP&L) has proposed a significant expansion at its substation in the area of 137th and 138th streets in an effort to enhance reliability and stabilize electric service in the resort. The expansion would require approval of a conditional use special exception for the company’s existing substation at Sinepuxent Rd. and Derrickson Ave. in the Caine Woods residential community.

The Ocean City Planning and Zoning Commission has twice passed on a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and Council for approval for the expansion, the most recent coming after a lengthy and often controversial public hearing last week. The proposed expansion has come under some fire from residents in the Caine Woods neighborhood where the substation exists and many testified against the proposal during the public hearing last week.

The Mayor and Council were scheduled to take up the issue on Monday, but the agenda item was scrapped to allow more time to consider the particulars of the expansion. However, former long-time councilman and Caine Woods resident Vince Gisriel on Monday questioned the validity of the public hearing and asked the elected officials to vote down the proposal because of procedural errors in the entire process.

“I think there are some legal issues that need to be cleared up on this conditional use,” Gisriel told the council on Monday during his allotted “five-minute” time during the public comment period. “I don’t think the hearing was properly advertised.”

Gisriel took exception to the perceived failure to properly advertise the public hearing and in some respects, the content of the public notice for the hearing. He pointed out the most glaring mistake was a reference to the tax maps as a rather vague 137th Street to 138th Street and not the precise location of the proposed conditional use.

“The code requires the identification of the location of the property,” he said. “A single typo is excusable, but there are four glaring errors in the advertisement for public notice. The hearing was not properly advertised, therefore, I think the council needs to vote down the request.”

Furthermore, Gisriel said years ago when Delmarva Power first proposed the expansion, a more favorable site in the area of 100th Street near the existing municipal lot and sheltered from residences was brought forward. Current council members differed somewhat on their recollection of that proposal.
“I do recall another location being considered,” said Councilwoman Margaret Pillas. “I think 100th Street was being considered as an alternate site.”

However, Councilwoman Mary Knight did not recall 100th Street ever being on the table.

“I disagree with that,” she said. “Delmarva Power only came to us with the one location.”

City Solicitor Guy Ayres listened attentively to the debate before he had apparently heard enough from Gisriel, whom he essentially accused of using his five-minute public comment period to forward his own agenda on the issue.

“It is entirely inappropriate for Mr. Gisriel to be up here arguing his case,” he said. “His opportunity to do so came during the public hearing. They’ve made a recommendation and the council is going to act on it.”

However, the ever-fiesty Gisriel was not dissuaded from his argument.

“I’m trying to clarify if this was a properly and legally advertised hearing,” he said. “I think the public has a right to know.”

However, the equally-feisty Ayres refused to budge and would not offer an opinion on the legality of the hearing, especially not at Gisriel’s request.

“When the council asks for my opinion, I’ll give it to them,” he said. “I’m not going to give it because you asked for it.”

Ayres said whether or not the public hearing was properly advertised was not germane to the recommendation of the Planning and Zoning Commission and the ultimate decision by the Mayor and Council.

“I think he’s wrong about the advertisement, but even if he’s right, the appropriate action is not to deny the request,” he said.

Gisriel, however, got the last word in during the chippy exchange between the long-time colleagues and resort political heavyweights. Both Gisriel and Ayres served on the Ocean City Mayor and Council during different time periods. Ayres was city solicitor while Gisriel served multiple terms on the council.

“I’m not up here to attack anybody,” he said. “I just think the public is entitled to an answer.”