State officials say many of the recent problems at the Eastern Correctional Institution near Princess Anne in Somerset County were not unusual for a new facility of its size, but they also say they should have discovered some of the prison's design flaws.
Most of the initial problems, except those dealing with ECI's wood-burning power plant, "were not any worse than at any other large construction project we've dealth with," Earl Seboda, state secretary of general services, told lawmakers recently.
Public attention has been focused on the prison's problems because of difficulties that have arisen in the power plant's operation.
The 1,440-cell prison opened last August and houses about 900 inmates.
Last month, the prison had four power failures on three days, Corrections Commissioner Arnold Hopkins told the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. None of the failures resulted in security breaches.
One power failure, on Jan. 6, left the entire prison dark for 19 minutes, starting around 11:30 p.m., Hopkins said. The other failures, lasting about 45 minutes each, affected some housing units.
Two of the failures occurred when modifications were being made to the plower plant, Seboda said.
Hopkins said power plant personnel had not been aware that they could manually switch on back-up power when automatic systems fail.
The power plant now provides about a third of the prison's electricity. It was designed so that it would generate enough electricity that excess could be sold to Delmarva Power & Light.
Although some mistakes should have been picked up by those managing the power plant's construction, some also "should have been picked up by the state," Seboda said at the briefing.
A cursory review of the wood-burning plant by Constellation Holdings Inc. of Baltimore found a number of easily noticeable flaws, including:
Questionable plant layout, with numerous "tripping and head injury hazards" and ladders needed for access to routinely operated components.
A scaffolding, not meeting federal safety standards, welded to a diesel generator housing and frame.
Less than ideal control board layout. Boiler and turbine boards are 150 feet apart.
The state plans to hire an expert to conduct a detailed study of the plant and determine what went wrong in its construction and how it can be fixed. The findings will be used by the attorney general in litigation aimed at recouping the costs to taxpayers, officials said.
Two preliminary examinations of the power plant have concluded that it would, with modifications, be capable of safe and reliable operation, officials told lawmakers.