Let's make sure you are caught up to speed.

On Tuesday, WBSM's Jim Philips reported a large, yet uncharacteristically shy $100,000 donation by the New Bedford Department of Planning, Housing, and Community Development was made Friday to the Ernestina-Morrissey Association. The money came from the Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds, donated to the fundraising arm for the historic schooner.

The CPA is funded by a 1.5 percent surcharge on annual tax assessments of city residences and businesses in excess of $100,000, so virtually almost every home and business address in the city.

The donation was proposed in the spring of 2018, authorized back in August and handed to the Ernestina-Morrissey Association Friday, December 29. SEMA President Julius Britto was present, as was SEMA Secretary Ann McQuinlan. While Mayor Mitchell was not on hand, representing the City for the large donation was Ann Louro in a low-key formal act at City Hall.

Britto finally surfaced publicly. While no media was invited, he went to the event at City Hall after laying ninja-low during my three-week investigation into the missing southern yellow pine lumber donated to the Ernestina. Britto, who WJAR-TV's Brian Crandall interviewed off-air, was quoted to say that "the City does not owe them (the Ernestina Commission) an explanation for the loss."

On Wednesday, December 19, the Department of Conservation & Recreation offered a bizarre statement to WJAR, stating that despite the loss of the estimated 60 tons of rare southern yellow pine, DCR "did not have to change its contract for the restoration work," and "did not add any cost" to the restoration work.

Can that make sense? It didn't add any cost to the restoration work? Let's examine that.

In 2009, the donated lumber from Fairhaven Mills was declared by the Ernestina's President Paul Brawley as ideal.

“Southern yellow pine like this is the best material for planking above the waterline and deck. It’s in great condition," Brawley told the Standard-Times. "As we continue to preserve Ernestina, we are now ensured of having an invaluable supply of wood for the next phase.”

The plans for the yellow pine had several applications, but just the decking alone, according to the contract's line item cost page, shows it is one of the most expensive items at over $700,000!

So how is possible that the best but remarkably free "invaluable wood" estimated to be worth $330,000 in raw materials was never factored in and "did not add to any cost"? The lumber had disappeared sometime between the DCR's paid appraisal in the spring of 2016, and that summer, when the Ernestina people called for their timbers at the Quittacas City Yard.

The statement from DCR seems to be factually and mathematically challenged. Either someone provided the wrong information to the DCR through omission or fabrication, or the DCR is completely inept and dysfunctional. Take that to the bank.

Ken Pittman

Maybe it wasn't really a priority to get that exact wood. Maybe the shipwrights and Mr. Brawley were wrong in their assessment? Well, I found something in the contract's 2014 project description that would put any of the downplaying to bed forever.

The fact is, that the exact preferred and desired wood for the job is the exact wood that exited the Quittacas City Yard in Rochester: 130-year-old, old growth southern yellow pine (see items 28, 29 and 30).

Ken Pittman
Ken Pittman

Congratulations to the Ernestina-Morrissey Association for securing money from the City's property tax-payers with a sizable donation from the City of New Bedford.

On another note, I can confirm to you that Governor Charlie Baker has been personally made aware of the situation.

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 ken.pittman@townsquaremedia.com and follow him on Twitter @RadioKenPittman. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. 

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