Report indicates major electrical work needed in Menemsha

Selectmen unsure if stray voltage still lurks in the harbor.

From left, Selectmen Jim Malkin, Bill Rossi, and Warren Doty with executive secretary Tim Carroll at Tuesday's board meeting where a survey report on the condition of Menemsha's electrical infrastructure was discussed. — Rich Saltzberg

On Tuesday evening, Chilmark selectmen discussed a survey report that called for significant repairs and upgrades to the electrical infrastructure of Menemsha Harbor. The town’s inspector of wires, Cole Powers, authored the report but was not present. However, Mr. Powers had been in touch with the town hours earlier.

“I spoke with him today at the request of the Harbor Advisory Committee,” selectman Jim Malkin, the board’s harbor liaison, said. Tim Carroll, the town’s executive secretary, was on the call as well, he said. They asked Mr. Powers to draft a work plan based on his report and to include a rough cost estimate for that plan, Mr. Malkin said, with the goal, after it’s vetted by the Harbor Advisory Committee, of presenting the plan and associated costs at a special town meeting on Nov. 27.  

Marine electric current caused problems at the harbor throughout the summer and shocked some bathers in degrees ranging from tickles to body-shaking jolts. Officials thought the problem had been eliminated after the installation of grounding wire between electrical panels and the transient dock, but Mr. Malkin learned it may have lingered.

“He did, in his conversation, surprise me by mentioning that we still have stray voltage around,” Mr. Malkin said. “I thought that at the meeting where I wasn’t present that he had said that there wasn’t any more stray voltage.”

Mr. Malkin’s fellow board members had different interpretations of what Mr. Powers meant.

“He said there’s stray voltage everywhere — all over the Island,” selectmen chairman Bill Rossi said, referring to Mr. Power’s statements at an Aug. 22 selectmen’s meeting about stray voltage being a chronic problem for both the harbor and the Vineyard as a whole because of the poor grounding properties of Island soils.

“We did have testing in Crab Corner 10 days in a row with no stray voltage from any of those tests,” selectman Warren Doty said in reference to the board’s July 25 decision to monitor seawater for voltage in the vicinity of Crab Corner and the transient dock.

“What I think he was saying is that the conductors aren’t up to code, per the new code, and therefore when you hook a GFI circuit to them, they will trip,” Mr. Carroll said.

Mr. Malkin said the board should seek clarification from Mr. Powers in regards to the extent and source of stray voltage in Menemsha.

Among the issues Mr. Powers noted in his report were marine pedestals and their posts that showed poor condition, the necessity of new and beefier feeder lines (wires) in various locations, a need for improved illumination for the bulkhead perimeter and the

steps that lead off it to the docks below, a “deteriorated” main panel that requires a replacement panel of 600-amp capacity at a minimum and further requires relocation from its present position, and the bonding of the steel bulkhead. “[The s]teel bulkhead should be permanently bonded back to Main Distribution Equipment adjacent to the harbormaster’s shack,” he wrote.

Mr. Powers later clarified to The Times that bonding means linking all portions of the harbor bulkhead and all portions of the transient dock with wiring that connects with the service panel and with grounding electrodes. Mr. Powers described the housing of the main Menemsha panel as so decayed that the bottom has fallen away and is open to the elements.

Mr. Malkin said he, Mr. Carroll, and harbormaster Dennis Jason hope to meet with Mr. Powers onsite before the week is out to plot where along the bulkhead concrete they will need to dig up to install wire. After this, Mr. Malkin said, Mr. Powers will be able to put together figures.


In other business, Mr. Carroll informed the selectmen that the town would begin soliciting for bids for revetment removal and parking lot work at Squibnocket Beach later in the week.