Menemsha electrical upgrade vexes selectmen

Chilmark is struggling to upgrade Menemsha electrical infrastructure before next season. —Rich Saltzberg

Chilmark was forced to reissue its RFP for major electrical upgrades to Menemsha docks recently, after only a single bidder emerged, and was disqualified due to a technical error. The town has readvertised the project, but potential bidders do not have the specifications available to them yet. Tuesday night the selectmen heard from town administrator Tim Carroll about an effort to either revise the specifications by the end of the day Wednesday or to negotiate with inspector of wires Cole Powers regarding a six-figure cost overrun in the electrical plans Powers apparently prefers stay in place.

“We’re waiting to hear back from the engineer and the wiring inspector about a value engineering of the project,” Carroll told the board. “We came in at almost $100,000 over original estimate. There were some questions about the specs and the plans. They have until Wednesday to get back to us with value engineering so we can incorporate [it] into the plans that have been advertised but won’t be released until Friday morning.”

Carroll said if other efficiencies can’t be found, there may be merit in the town reconsidering a “surface-mount wiring system instead of a buried wiring system.” He said the engineer (electrical engineering firm Vincent DiIorio) believes $100,000 could be saved by going from subterranean wiring to above-ground wiring.

Selectmen chairman Jim Malkin said a caveat to such a change would be whether it meets code.

Carroll said the engineer advised it did, but added the “local enforcement officer” (inspector of wires Powers) must make a judgment call as to whether public safety needs are met.

The one bid turned out to be from Powers Electric, an electrical contracting company owned by the town’s inspector of wires.

On Nov. 27, 2017, Chilmark voters approved $350,000 to upgrade electrical infrastructure in Menemsha after a series of stray voltage anomalies resulted in several people enduring varying degrees of shock when they came into contact with harbor water.

Some of that sum has already been expended on engineering and interim repairs.

“I have to tell you I’ve found this process — I still find this process — to be very frustrating,” Malkin said. “I’m frustrated we only have one bid. I’m frustrated the bid is too high. I’m frustrated we couldn’t get it done for last summer.”

It’s already December — the clock is ticking, Malkin said.

“It seems like a long time from now until June, but it isn’t at all,” selectman Warren Doty said. “It’s like tomorrow.”


  1. I am not an electrician nor do I play one on tv but who is handling the safety issues around the Menemsha harbor? Stray voltage, missing planks, board with nails, outdated fire extinguishers, missing ladders and handrails. A list of things to be done around the harbor is made every year but seems like the harbormaster get paid to not do anything.
    There has been electrical workers running new wires on the other dock, one that two selectman tie up to, maybe there is more problems than being reported? Shocking.

  2. Seems kind of funny that the town’s inspector of wires, who is owner of the only company that bid on the job, is making the decision weather its safe or not if its going to be above ground or underground wiring. Small town govt at its best.

  3. Having done electrical work on the Menemsha harborfront recently, I understand all the issues.
    This is a large project, the latest national electrical code requires a lot more than ever before. This means very costly ground fault equipment. This is due to safety and stray voltage, which is currently present. The more expensive equipment required, the more the costs go up. There is no wiggle room as far as the NEC rules are concerned. Powers electric is a large company, he just happens to be the electrical inspector in Chilmark.

    • Maybe selectman Malkin could talk to the NEC like he talked to the Fire Marshal about the fuel dock safety regulations?

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