OC Power Plant Testing Questioned

OCEAN CITY — A renewed debate about semi-annual testing on a north-end Delmarva Power substation this week touched off an often contentious exchange between a couple of resort heavyweights.

About six years ago, Delmarva Power came to Ocean City seeking to expand its substation in the area of Sinepuxent Road between 137th Street and 138th Street. At the time, the substation expansion was approved despite concerns from residents in the community about increased noise and potentially harmful electromagnetic activity emanating from the plant.

The substation expansion was ultimately approved with conditions, including a sound-proof barrier around the exterior of the roughly block-long property. Another condition of approval was semi-annual testing by an independent third party to ensure the noise and electromagnetic activity did not exceed acceptable safe standards.

In the year since, the semi-annual testing has been conducted eight times and at no time has the noise and electromagnetic activity come close to approaching the acceptable standards. To that end, Delmarva Power officials earlier this month came before the Ocean City Planning and Zoning Commission seeking to remove the condition that requires the semi-annual testing, arguing the completed tests have show no indication of any dangerous levels of noise or electromagnetic activity.

The planning commission agreed to forward a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and Council to remove the testing requirements for the Delmarva Power substation after considerable debate and significant concerns raised by property owners and residents in the area, including former long-time Councilman Vince Gisriel.

However, the Mayor and Council have not yet formally acted on the planning commission’s recommendation to remove the testing requirement. During the public comment period of Monday’s Mayor and Council meeting, Gisriel attempted to broach the subject again, but was repeatedly shut down by long-time City Solicitor Guy Ayres. Gisriel and Ayres often butted heads on different issues over the years and Monday’s exchange had a twinge of nostalgia.

Gisriel started by pointing out the special use exception approved for the Delmarva Power substation expansion including the semi-annual testing requirement had never been codified. He also pointed out the tests were supposed to be conducted by an independent environmental specialist, but the results received by citizens had been edited, or at least excerpted, by Delmarva Power.

“Out of the eight reports, only five are available at City Hall,” he said. “The reports have no letterhead and no signatures. They are basically excerpts from the original reports and do not include any raw data.”

In the first of what would be multiple exchanges, Ayres attempted to halt Gisriel right there, pointing out the planning commission had made its recommendation and the Mayor and Council had not yet taken up the issue. Ayres said it was inappropriate for Gisriel to broach the subject in that forum because it was an active case. Essentially, Ayres said the concerns Gisriel was raising on Monday should have been brought up at the planning commission’s formal hearing on the issue.

“I understand your concerns,” he said. “It just seems to me these are issues that should have come up at the planning commission.”

Despite Ayres’ admonitions, Gisriel continued the narrative.

“How does it get addressed?” he said. “The Mayor and Council have an existing condition out there that isn’t being followed. I hope the Mayor and Council look into it before making a final decision.”

Ayres again attempted to stop Gisriel from going any further with the debate.

“I have no reason not to believe everything he is saying,” he said. “I’m just saying this isn’t the time or the place for this.”

Some on the council were not sure what the procedure should be. On the one hand, it appeared Gisriel was making a valid point about the testing requirements not being met. On the other hand, there is a protocol in place outlining when public comments on the issue are appropriate.

“What is the time and place?” said Councilman John Gehrig. “On whose authority is it to determine if the conditions are being met?”

Ayres explained the planning commission was the hearing body on the special exception and the conditions put on it. He also said the Mayor and Council had authority to remand the issue back to the planning commission if anomalies were discovered or new information came to light.

After considerable, and sometimes humorous, debate, Ayres and Gisriel, agreed to disagree and the issue will be resolved by the full Mayor and Council at a later date.

Another uptown resident, Richard Hanson, said he agreed the testing appeared to be not entirely on the up and up.

“It just came to our attention we aren’t getting the raw data,” he said. “We’re getting a summarized report. We didn’t know it was going to Delmarva Power so they could summarize it.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.