A Menemsha beach is closed after kids feel ‘tickle’ of electricity

West Tisbury field trip turns into a weeklong investigation of electric supply at town dock.

An orange cone helps mark the area near Crab Corner where swimming is currently prohibited. - Rich Saltzberg

The town has closed a section of Menemsha known as Crab Corner to swimming after several West Tisbury third graders were apparently exposed to some electric current coming from a nearby dock.

Two memos, authored by Chilmark selectman Jim Malkin, the selectmen’s harbor liaison, were posted Tuesday at locations near the dock where students were wading a week ago.

“Out of an abundance of caution we are keeping people out of the water at Crab Corner,” Mr. Malkin’s memo states. “There was a tickle of electricity last week; there is no trace of it anymore. We had electricians working over the weekend. They could detect no electricity in the water. We will be dredging under the dock and electricians will be here on Thursday with more testing equipment. We appreciate your understanding of our very cautious approach.”

The publicly posted memo is addressed to the town’s beach committee.

On Wednesday, June 21, Marshall Carroll, owner of the nearby Menemsha Texaco, and assistant harbormaster Glen DeBlase were notified by a teacher’s assistant that students had experienced strange sensations in the water near Crab Corner, a narrow beach between the Menemsha jetty and the town’s transient dock, Mr. Marshall told The Times. When Mr. Marshall and Mr. DeBlase hastened over to the dock, the children were already on the sand, out of the water. Mr. DeBlase instructed them to stay clear of the water. He dipped his hand in the water off the dock and detected current, according to Mr. Marshall. This prompted him to open the electrical box on the bulkhead above the dock and cut the circuit, Mr. Marshall said.

In the moments prior to the power cut, harbormaster Dennis Jason arrived. He told The Times that he reached his hand in the water and felt a “little tingle.” Mr. Jason did not elaborate further on the incident.

Emergency crews were not called to the scene, according to local police and an official from Tri-Town Ambulance.

West Tisbury School Principal Donna Lowell-Bettencourt said the children, third graders, were at Menemsha for a beach day. She acknowledged that they had experienced a “small shock feeling” but that they all appeared to be fine. She commended the teacher’s assistant for reporting the anomaly to harbormaster staff. She also commended the teacher who led the trip for reporting the incident to her.

Crab Corner is a popular spot for kids, and last Thursday there were children swimming and paddling there, near the transient dock.

Police Chief Jonathan Klaren said he did not know about the incident, but went to the waterfront Thursday morning and learned that the power had been shut off to the dock.

On Thursday, officials were waiting for an electrician to evaluate the dock’s wiring, assistant harbormaster Richard Steves said.

After last week’s incident, there was caution tape and duct tape around the electrical box that serves the dock.

Mr. Steves said when electricians do arrive, they will only be able to examine the underside of the dock, where the wiring is, at low tide. He also said yachts were scheduled to tie up at the transient dock sometime last Friday, and that they were instructed to rely on their generators for additional power.

Several motor yachts tied up to the transient dock over the weekend. Local merchants said power was switched on to service the yachts during the day and that a lifeguard was stationed at Crab Corner to prevent swimming there while the electricity flowed. The merchants said the power was cut to the dock late in the afternoon, when the lifeguard departed. Traffic cones and string were set along the small beach at Crab Corner for the night. Electricians were said to have examined the transient dock area sometime Sunday.

The Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association, an advocacy organization, recommends not swimming “in or near marinas, docks, or boatyards,” according to its website, due to the potential threat of leaking electricity. The association’s site diagrams electricity leakage in a marine environment.


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