In 2015, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts-owned schooner Ernestina-Morrissey set sail for Boothbay Harbor in Maine for the multi-million dollar restoration project.

Part of that project was to replace much of the aft and decking with Southern yellow pine timbers donated to the project by the Dickinson Development Corporation, which had razed the 19th century Fairhaven Mills building in 2009.

The 160 24-foot beams were carefully salvaged during demolition and then brought to the City’s water treatment plant at Quitticas Pond in Rochester in August of 2009. From there, they were immediately placed inside the enormous granite warehouse and carefully stacked in an area that would not interfere with the DPI's day-to-day operations.

The lumber remained there, with promises from New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang, to store and protect it for future use whenever the Ernestina folks came calling for it.

It was behind lock and key in a dry, perfect storage facility where many security cameras were installed as part of Homeland Security’s requirements for public water treatment facilities in the nation following 9/11. Sources who have been there tell me there was plenty of room for the wood, and that it was not in any way a hindrance to other storage items, access, or in any way inconvenient for the warehouse.

Return to 2015. Mayor Lang had been out of office for three years, succeeded by Mayor John Mitchell, a former federal prosecutor.

Around the time the Ernestina-Morrissey schooner made its way to Maine, a mysterious, yet-to-be-explained decision was made to have DPI workers at Quittacas yard remove the estimated 160 24-foot beams from the warehouse, down a dirt trail, secluded and into the woods a half-mile away to the southeast, where they were dumped on the side of the dirt trail and laid directly on the ground and left uncovered.

The estimated $330,000 parcel of valuable lumber remained there until about mid-2016 when it left the yard.

Responding to a 2017 inquiry about the wood leaving the City’s possession, the City’s Public Information officer Jonathan Carvalho told WBSM newsroom director Taylor Cormier the following:

*The Ernestina Commission had been aware of this for a while. (Note: Carvalho is also on the Commission)

*The City DPI workers were unaware of the intentions for the lumber and the inventory of it was publicly listed in a surplus property auction notice but not one person was interested in it and so it was given away to someone.

We have since learned that most members of the Ernestina Commission are just now becoming aware of the loss of the small fortune of wood. The City DPI workers were indeed aware of the specific intentions for that inventory of lumber, and the City was forced to admit that there was never any attempt to alert the public of a surplus property auction.

The moving of the wood from the warehouse into the woods at Quittacas is no small event in this most intriguing mystery. The Mayor’s Office has been shockingly misleading or inexplicably wrong in every fact originally released to us so far, and is clearly not interested in volunteering any information that would clear up what they are now calling an honest mistake.

This particular decision to move the parcel leaves several key questions:

--Why was the lumber moved?

--Why wasn’t it stored with care?

--Why wasn’t the Ernestina Commission notified that the wood was no longer protected by security cameras, locked away or even protected from the elements?

--Why was the wood moved a half-mile away, out of sight, as far away as it was and so carelessly dumped onto a muddy trail, instead of much closer in the cleared yard in front of the warehouse, or carefully stacked and covered on either side of the warehouse, and covered properly?

--Who gave the order?

--Who worked on that task?

--Will the City allow these people to be interviewed?

--According to former Ernestina Commission member Buddy Andrade, who called WBSM's Chris McCarthy Show yesterday, each current member that he spoke with was unaware of any of this until I broke the story. This despite what Mr. Carvalho stated. If this is true, why did Ernestina Commission President Julius Britto not inform the committee of this devastating loss of lumber that answered many of the expensive problems they face in her restoration?

The DPI admitted remembering Ernestina representatives reviewing the wood in 2014, according to Carvalho’s response to a question in my inquiry.

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The State Department of Conservation and Recreation sent an expert shipwright and builder to assess the wood again in 2016, when Harold Burnham was photographed at the pile of lumber in the woods. He assessed the wood for the upcoming use for the restoration project.

Burnham was paid by the state DCR to do so. His 2016 report on the wood's quality and usefulness had to have been favorable, given his reluctant statement to me that he was glad I was investigating this because "a lot was wrong." If it was a pile of junk and unusable to the Ernestina, why wouldn't he say so?

And, if there were no implications of any crime or ethics issues, wouldn't he have just said that he found the wood useless? But instead, he reluctantly let me know "a lot was wrong," that the wood was lost to the non-profit organization and that he was fearful of speaking to me.

Somehow, according to Mayor Mitchell last Wednesday on WBSM, the DPI decided for the Ernestina that they couldn't possibly use the wood, because it had screws and nails and some other metal pieces in the body of most of the timbers.

More specifically, Standard-Times reporter Jack Spillane stated in an article from last weekend that someone at a "department head level," presumably at the DPI, made the decisions about the lack of usefulness of the timbers for the Ernestina's cause, and he decided to give it away. Mr. Spillane has apparently made progress in narrowing down the person.

More questions here:

--Was that DPI head level person on-site when the Ernestina's lumber was properly stored in the warehouse in 2009?

--Is this the same individual who decided to move the lumber away from its secured place in the warehouse and out into the woods? If not does this person know who gave the order to do so and was he there for that task?

--Who did he give the wood to?

We know the mayor said on-air that one thing was clear to them was that the person in possession of the wood refused to give it back when they were allegedly approached to do so.

--Why didn't the mayor drag the one possessing the wood, but who refused to return it, to a court where a judge could at least put an injunction on the property with orders not to alter the wood or change any possession or location until a decision had been made? Why turn around and accept the "no" from the one who had that lumber?

--Who got the wood, Mr. Mayor?

Out with it. Why are you falling on your sword for this person? I have to believe this managing of yours regarding this issue has plummeted your political capital in the City and region.

Why?

Ken Pittman is the host of The Ken Pittman Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Contact him at talkerkenpittman@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @RadioKenPittman. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.