Freetown Resident at Center of Ernestina Lumber Investigation [OPINION]
The City of New Bedford's investigation into the missing Ernestina lumber has concluded, and a Freetown resident is at the center of it.
Shawn Davis had inquired about obtaining the old growth yellow pine timbers by asking former DPI Commissioner Ron Labelle in September of 2015 about the idea of him taking it away. Labelle stated that he informed Davis that the wood belonged to the Ernestina Commission and was not the DPI's to give away or sell.
That did not stop Davis, who returned 13 months later to New Bedford's facility at Quittacas just over a month after LaBelle's retirement in August of 2016.
Davis allegedly discovered the lumber out in the woods of the yard while walking his dog.
According to the report, Labelle described Davis as being persistent in his request to take the Ernestina lumber and apparently some cobblestones as well, although less is known about that as is the wood.
In August of 2016, Davis approached Charles Kennedy, the former and now retired Assistant Superintendent of Water who worked out of the City's Quittacas Yard. He asked Kennedy about the wood. Kennedy then contacted DPI Commissioner Euzebio "Zeb" Arruda and told him that Davis wanted the wood and would pay for the removal. Kennedy, in an email, said "Initially, the group restoring the Ernestina had an interest, but that fell through due to the excessive amount of nails and bolts in the wood."
Davis estimated a cost of $1,000 to $1,500 to remove the lumber from the City yard and that a "Bridgewater tree company" would be doing the job.
Instead, he showed up with a truck from a lumber company out of Louisiana and the wood was laid out over a field in Quittacas for the purchaser to view, so as to pick and choose which beams he'd be taking and which he'd be leaving behind.
The rest of the lumber was then sold to Cataumet Sawmill in East Falmouth. Some of that ended up in Oxford, Mississippi.
So many questions still remain, though.
- Davis told Kennedy he was going to build a house made out of "renewable materials," but the whole "deal fell through" on the Long Pond shore in Lakeville site for his proposed home. Why was the wood was sold to third parties before it left Quittacas yard and before the date that Davis indicated any real estate issues preventing him from building his home?
- Didn't Kennedy suspect the lumber may have significant value if a Louisiana lumber company was willing to travel 1,600 miles for a part of the parcel?
- If Davis knew the lumber was meant for the Ernestina, why return just a year later, pretending not to know what he learned from Labelle and that the City couldn't give away what wasn't theirs?
- Will the District Attorney's Office (which also has a copy of the City's report) subpoena bank accounts of Arruda, Kennedy and Davis to see if improper or even illegal compensation can be established for this now obvious gift to Davis who, according to the report, made $13,000 on a portion of the inventory of lumber he took away?
- Why would DPI Commissioner Zeb Arruda give a thumb's up to gift the wood in September of 2016, knowing the Ernestina still had interest in the lumber at least as late as December 4, 2015 when Ron Labelle informed him of it?
- Shawn Davis stopped cooperating with the City's investigation once Sandra Vezina asked him why he didn't first tell her about inquiring about the wood back in 2015 when he was denied by Ron Labelle. In prior conversations, according to the report, Davis said he first asked about the wood in 2016 after Labelle retired. Vezina then advised Mayor Mitchell, who decided to get the New Bedford Police involved by informing Chief Cordeiro of the development. Can he be charged?
- The entire brass of the Water and Public Infrastructure used a five-year-old rumor by a City Yard worker who said he overheard the DCR folks say the wood was "garbage." The two men representing the Ernestina in 2011 stated that they did not recall speaking about the condition of the wood while at Quittacas, so how was anything overheard, nevermind given such credibility?
- Not one call or email was placed to the Ernestina Commission or DCR to verify if the wood was no longer wanted by them before "gifting" this parcel of old growth yellow pine lumber to Shawn Davis. Is this even remotely acceptable?
On the last question, I can answer. Mayor Mitchell emphatically said it is not acceptable and that major policy changes are coming with respect to both storing non-City property as favors and as to how salvageable materials are disposed of.
There will be more discussion of the investigation's findings Saturday morning on The Ken Pittman Show.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RadioKenPittman. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.