Inspection shows no stray electricity at Crab Corner

Information contradicts earlier statement about marine voltage.

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Selectmen Bill Rossi and Warren Doty and town executive secretary Tim Carroll listen to a Menemsha electrical report from inspector of wires Cole Powers at Tuesday evening's selectmen's meeting. Mr. Powers said he detected no marine voltage at Crab Corner—information that contradicts a statement made by the board's harbor liaison, Jim Malkin, two weeks ago. — Rich Saltzberg

Crab Corner, Menemsha’s popular children’s beach, remains closed despite a recent inspection that found it free of the stray voltage that has plagued it throughout the heart of the summer and resulted in several people receiving shocks, tingles, or “tickles” when coming in contact with seawater in the area.

Crab Corner’s closure spurred parents and grandparents with fondness for the place to sign an online petition demanding it be reopened.

Few petitioners were on hand Tuesday evening when Cole Powers, Chilmark’s inspector of wires, told the town’s selectmen that no voltage was detected during a 10-day inspection that the board commissioned him to execute in the vicinity of Crab Corner. The information Mr. Powers relayed ran counter to statements made at a meeting two weeks prior when selectman Jim Malkin, the board’s harbor liaison, said he’d spoken to Mr. Powers’ office and learned that more voltage was found.

“They have detected voltage,” he said, “but they have not detected major voltage.”

Mr. Malkin was absent from Tuesday’s meeting. Neither selectman Bill Rossi nor selectman Warren Doty asked about the contradiction Mr. Powers’ report presented in light of Mr. Malkin’s past statement. Nor was information provided about any other testing periods in Menemsha that may have accounted for the positive voltage readings Mr. Malkin previously spoke about.  Reached by telephone the next day, Mr. Rossi said he was unaware of any other testing data taken at Crab Corner. “That’s the only concrete information that I have,” he said, citing the report by Mr. Powers.

Mr. Powers also outlined for the selectmen the grounding conditions he uncovered in early July, when he was first asked to examine the electrical condition of the transient dock adjacent to Crab Corner.

“The panel that feeds the transient dock pedestals had not, what I would call, adequate ground connections to eliminate the possibility of stray voltage, transient voltage, or even ground faults, which is the most dangerous of all conditions,” he said.

Mr. Powers said he ordered fix to grounding issues at the dock that “immediately rectified the condition that people were experiencing.”

However, Mr. Powers also suggested that some degree of stray voltage is a longstanding chronic condition of the harbor, and the Vineyard as a whole, due to the feeble grounding capacities of Island soils. He also said that the installation of the transient dock may have exacerbated the preexisting electrical abnormalities in the harbor.

Mr. Powers also told the selectmen that while he was aware that people had felt tingles and shocks, he was poorly informed about the deeper details of those sensations and said that having that knowledge might help him further understand the nature of the electricity that stimulated the sensations.

“If somebody knows, I’d like to know,” he said. “It might be able to shed some light on it. I’ve never been given clear and concise information about exactly how these people experienced the tingle.”

Some of the tingles people felt may have been false sensations, he added.  

Mr. Powers is scheduled to complete a survey of the harbor’s electrical infrastructure on Sept. 7. Town executive secretary Tim Carroll said that a report and proposal Mr. Powers generates from the survey can be used to craft a warrant article for a special town meeting scheduled Sept. 25 in order to fund any required electrical work.

Certain changes to the National Electric Code, adopted in January of this year, specifically encompass marinas and boatyards, Mr. Powers said. These codes provide for ground fault systems that if installed at the harbor after the survey, would instantly catch stray current.

In other business, the selectmen discussed the ongoing attempts to relocate Tri-Town Ambulance and the fire department from its cramped and deteriorated station to a new building. Mr. Rossi said a parcel once targeted as a possible site for a new emergency services building may again be available. In response, Mr. Doty expressed his exasperation at the town’s inability to find a suitable parcel. He accused the committee in charge of finding a new location of being “zero for five” in its attempts.  

The selectmen also signed annual bulkhead lease renewals for Menemsha. In addition, selectman Doty said the parks and recreation committee, which manages the leases, interviewed four applicants for recently vacated bulkhead lot 1A. Mr. Carroll said that there was a “compelling and detailed approach” to their applications. Two oyster fishermen, a lobsterman, and a charter captain comprised the applicants, Mr. Carroll said. A decision on a lessee is expected on Friday, Mr. Doty said.

The selectmen acknowledged receipt of correspondence from harbormaster Dennis Jason and town counsel Ronald Rappaport concerning a newly signed boat slip lease for Bradley Carroll. At issue is a town regulation that prohibits more than one slip belonging to a single household. Because Marshall Carroll, Ms. Carroll’s father, already leases a slip, town counsel indicated in his letter that the town is empowered to revoke Ms. Carroll’s lease if it so chooses. Reached by telephone prior to the meeting, Marshall Carroll told The Times that his daughter, now 20, entered her slip application with crayon at age 3, and has patiently waited and sent additional correspondence to the town over the years in hopes that a slip would eventually be granted. According to Mr. Rappaport’s opinion, Ms. Carroll wasn’t even eligible to apply for the slip until she turned 18.

The selectmen opted to table the matter until Mr. Malkin’s return.