Originally, I believed Sandra Vezina did a good job with the City's investigation into the old growth yellow pines that left the Quittacas Water Treatment Facility grounds in the fall and early winter of 2016. And she did in many areas. But after further review, a lot of things were either forgiving in nature, missed or just wrong.

The Summary Findings say that In 2011, shipwright Leon Poindexter and Fred Sterner, the former chair of the Ernestina Commission, reviewed the donated timbers at Quittacas. The beams were stored in either the low-lift storage building or under a tarp just behind the building there. Then, Head Treatment Plant Operator Robert Giard claims to have overheard them say it was"garbage." After the evaluation in 2011, Giard is alleged to have passed along what he overheard to then Asst. Superintendent of Water Charles Kennedy. However, through further interviews, Vezina acknowledges a likely positive evaluation by Poindexter based on remarks from Sterner and Britto. Poindexter was not mentioned as being interviewed in the report.

While Giard alleges he told Charles Kennedy of a conversation he said that he overheard, presumably between Leon Poindexter and Sterner in 2011, calling the inventory of yellow pine beams “garbage." Sterner disputes that and also, there is no email of that description in any record. In addition, EM Commissioner Julius Britto stated that Poindexter’s 2011 assessment had to be positive since he passed the info on to Burnham who was made aware of the timbers there. Poindexter has not been named as someone Vezina interviewed. Sterner stated that Burnham told him that he could have it milled with little trouble in Booth Bay Harbor and also, these same four years later, Burnham was happy with the Quittacas yellow pine inventory. He had Mary Anne McQuinlan, who quoted him, inform the Mayor's Office that the Ernestina project planned to use it for the aft deck in an email sent to Christina Connelly on December 10, 2015.

The City's Investigative Report also conflicts with itself stating as a fact in Section iii Summary Findings on Page 4 that there was no further communication about the donated yellow pine beams at Quittacas after July 6, 2011, until August 14, 2013.

Vezina eventually brings up a conversation that she appeared not to look at closely enough in her interview with Ron Labelle.

In fact, two very interesting communications took place. The first:

December 11, 2012, 2:54 p.m.

From: Zeb Arruda

To: Ronald Labelle

...Also I’m thinking we can store that yellow pine in the woods and get it out of the building and parking lot area.


December 11, 2012, 3:05 p.m.

From: Ronald Labelle

To: Zeb Arruda

 Please protect the caisson move the wood.


In her interview with him, Arruda told Vezina that he didn't remember the wood being moved out in 2015, yet as we can see, it was his idea, not Ron Labelle's. Labelle just agreed with Arruda's plan to move the Ernestina's beams out to the woods to make space for the low lift garage. We have to assume that Vezina missed this entirely since in her Summary Findings, she claimed no communications existed in this time frame and that the wood was at Labelle's directions with no mention that Arruda came up with the idea. There are other rather obvious discrepancies in Mr. Arruda's statements of the events and what the email records will detail. We'll get back to those later.

The second communication in this same time frame that Sandra Vezina pretty much missed (even with keywords in discovered emails) needs to be looked at. She accepted a clearly wrong witness statement of Ron Labelle that included email conversations whose subject was titled "mill timber at QTP."

 May 23, 2013, 12:10 p.m.

From: Charles F. Kennedy

To:  James Ricci

Subject: mill timber at QTP

Jim, approximate numbers on mill timber stored at Quittacas.

15”x 17” (61 pieces)

11 x 10 (11 pieces)

9.5 x 13 (30 pieces)


May 23, 2013, 12:41 p.m.

From: James Ricci (Superintendent of Water City of New Bedford)

To: Phil Benjamin (Licensed forester Easton, MA)

Phil, here is a little info on the beams. (see email above)


May 30, 2013, 11:43 a.m.

From: Phil Benjamin

To: James Ricci

Subject: Mill Timbers

Hi Jim, Just had a response from one of the folks I thought might have an interest in the mill timbers you called about or at least know someone who might. Has a guy named Bobby Phillips been in touch with you? That was the name that my friend thought may have already seen them. Wait to hear from you.

By the way, we’re going to meet with Chris first off in the AM tomorrow. He may have an angle that will help with finding a home for the red pine. I will stay in touch. Also it was a friend of his who posted the note to his machine That was a relief to hear that.



May 30, 2013, 2:34 p.m.

From: James Ricci (sent from iPhone)

To: Zeb Arruda

Through Phil Benjamin I have contact information for a guy who is interested in the timbers that are stored in the low lift building. Dana Farland may have spoken with him because he has seen the timbers. Do you want me to contact him and proceed with the removal?


May 30, 2013, 7:03 p.m.

From: Zeb Arruda

To: James Ricci

CC: Ronald Labelle

Subject: Mill timbers at Quittacas

Jim. Please include the timbers outside in the back.


Clearly, a good portion of this conversation focused on the old growth southern yellow pine beams meant for the Ernestina. In fact, we know this not just based on the title of the subject in the emails but because of Mr. Ricci and Mr. Arruda describing exactly where the mill timbers were: the low lift garage and the pile in the back of it.

When I asked Vezina why she made the claim that this was not about the Ernestina wood, she told me that she asked Ron Labelle about them and he is said to have stated that the wood in this particular conversation was not about the yellow pine timbers but wood cut out in the facility's forest.

When I asked Vezina to consider the title of the subject "mill timbers," she seemed to be stunned for a moment. She asked me to forward the emails that I was talking about and I did. Her written response on February 1 stated that after further contact with the two, neither Mr. Ricci nor Labelle could recall the context of that conversation but that no yellow pine timbers were sold as a result of that conversation.

So what? How can Ron Labelle state that he knew the timbers were for the Ernestina all along, from 2009 right through to retirement in 2016, even trying to deter Shawn Davis from further attempts to obtain the wood in September of 2015, but then stand idly by as Zeb Arruda, Jim Ricci and Charles Kennedy attempt to sell them on May 30, 2013 in an email in which Labelle was included?

Why did Labelle originally tell Vezina that the conversation was about not about the yellow pine timbers but regarding wood cut in the forest? Now he remembers enough to know there was no money exchanged as a result of that conversation. Worth further inquiry.

On Page 5 of the Summary Findings, I think Vezina takes great liberty with her implying, as fact, that the emails showed that both Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Arruda were actively responding to inquiries from individuals interested in obtaining wood indicated both believed that the wood was no longer used for the Ernestina restorations.

Why do I think that?

Because of the following emails of which Arruda was included:

December 4, 2015, 8:42 a.m.

From: Mary Anne McQuinlan

To: Christina Connelly, Fred Sterner, Harold Burnham

Hi Christina, things are starting to move forward for the Ernestina-Morrissey at State Pier. Wendy Pearl (DCR) and Harold Burnham will be here on next Thursday, December 10 to move the spars, presently stored outside, to a safer location inside where they can be cared for properly and to evaluate other ship’s material stored there. On that day Harold would like to take a look at the yellow pine that was saved from the Fairhaven Mills demolition that is stored at the Waterworks in Lakeville (Rochester) so he can get an idea of how much there is and how it will need to be milled to be used in the current Ernestina-Morrissey project. Wendy has asked me to make arrangements for him to be able to look at the wood. Please let me know the next steps to be able to take advantage of Harold’s trip to New Bedford.


December 4, 2015, 9:54 a.m.

From: Christina Connelly

To: Ronald Labelle

CC: Zeb Arruda, Donna M. Amado, Molly Gilfeather

Ron, please see below and reach out to Mary Anne to arrange for Mr. Burnham to visit the yellow pine at Quittacas: (see email above this one)


December 4, 2015, 10:03 a.m.

From: Ronald Labelle

To: Christina Connelly

CC: Zeb Arruda, Donna M Amado, Molly Gilfeather

Donna, please contact Mary Anne and schedule this….


Here is the silver bullet email from SEMA Secretary Mary Ann McQuinlan to New Bedford's Chief Operating Officer, Christina Connelly:

December 11, 2015, 3:18 p.m.

From: Mary Anne McQuinlan

To: Christina Connelly

Hello Christina, I just wanted you to know that Harold Burnham took a look at the yellow pine at the Waterworks yesterday with Fred (Sterner) It is hard to realize the size of the beams until you see Harold next to them. Harold was very happy with the size and to see it was available for the ship and said it would be used to replace the aft deck.

Please thank Mr. LaBelle and make sure Mayor Mitchell knows about the wood. As the commission begins to plan for the New Bedford Summer Programming. I hope the Mayor’s Office will be involved. We all want the best for Ernestina-Morrissey.


So on December 4, 2015, the City's Chief Operating Officer, Christina Connelly, is alerted to the fact that the Ernestina representative and the State Department of Conservation and Recreation's hired shipwright are coming to Quittacas Water Treatment Facility on December 10.

Connelly is also made aware that the purpose of the visit is to check out the sizable inventory of stored yellow pine timbers entrusted to the City of New Bedford for safekeeping since 2009. The stated goal is to determine the condition of the wood as it is anticipated for the upcoming restoration project, about to begin after all these years.

While these emails do not indicate that Charles Kennedy was made aware of this development, Zeb Arruda was included in these emails multiple times, (as was the acknowledging Ron Labelle).

On Friday, December 11, 2015, McQuinlan follows up with her updates to Connelly and informs her that the shipwright Harold Burnham was not only happy about the size of the inventory but tells her that he has decided to use the yellow timbers at Quittacas for the restoration project. She pleads with Connelly to thank Ron Labelle and to inform Mayor Mitchell about the decision to use that inventory for the Ernestina restoration project.

On Monday, December 14, 2015, just three days later, Charles Kennedy and Zeb Arruda have plans to get rid of the yellow pines at Quittacas! Also, the specifics of this plan were preferred to be communicated over the phone by Mr. Arruda, as opposed to email:

Monday, December 14, 2015, 3:22 p.m.

From:  Charles F. Kennedy

To: Zeb Arruda

Subject: Re: mill timbers at Quittacas

Hi Zeb, Dan Menard, the boss at Acushnet DPW, is interested in getting some of the yellow pine timbers we want to get rid of at Quittacas. He wants to use them on some structure owned by the DPW. Is it okay for him to take what he wants?


Monday, December 14, 2015, 4:24 p.m.

From: Zeb Arruda

To: Charles F. Kennedy

Subject: mill timbers at Quittacas

Please have him call me.


In her witness statements, Vezina was told by Labelle that it was Zeb Arruda who told him that someone from the Ernestina talked to him and told Arruda that they didn't want the wood. When it was Arruda's turn for a statement, he told Vezina that he couldn't remember where that information came from but that it was "common knowledge" within the department that the wood was not wanted by the Ernestina any longer. She should have questioned the both further on this part.

That's the end of part one of my opinions and observations of the City's investigative report. More to come.

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. 

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