Gomes Calls for ‘Thorough Investigation’ into Missing Ernestina Wood [AUDIO]
NEW BEDFORD — City Councilor-at-Large Brian Gomes is calling for an investigation into the valuable historic lumber set aside for the schooner Ernestina that went missing from the New Bedford City Yard, even though the City now says an investigation has already been completed.
In an appearance Friday on WBSM, Gomes told Barry Richard that "a thorough investigation should be launched" into the disappearance of the 160 beams, which came from the former Fairhaven Mills site and was donated by the developer to the Ernestina commission for the schooner's restoration. It was being stored at the City Yard at Quittacas Pond in Rochester, from which it disappeared in 2016.
The wood could have been worth up to $1 million, according to timber experts contacted by WBSM's Ken Pittman.
"To find out how much it was, what it was worth, what it would take to get it out of there--a thorough investigation should be launched," Gomes said. "I'll start with the New Bedford City Council, our Committee on Internal Affairs, from that to Appointments and Briefings, and maybe even sending a letter to the governor asking for him to get involved, and get the right authorities involved."
In the course of his investigation into the missing wood, Pittman posed a series of written questions to Jonathan Carvalho, Public Information Officer for the City of New Bedford, regarding the missing wood. Carvalho's responses are in bold:
1. Can the City produce a surplus property notice with regards to this lumber? There was no surplus property sale or auction.
2. Who decided to give the lumber away? We don’t know.
3. Where specifically did it end up? I’ve been told it was given to a developer who milled it and used it for his own home construction. We don’t know.
4. When specifically was it given away? We don’t know exactly when. In 2016, though. Who provided the labor of getting the tens of tons of wood off of the ground and onto truck(s) and who transported the timber off the yard?Failed to answer.
5. What is the standard of criteria for the city to not be compelled to make public notice for surplus properties and decide what can and will be given away and to whom? The Criteria is it must be city property with a value of over $10K, that compels a surplus property public notice.
6. Two parts:
A) Was there not one person in the Quittacas yard who was aware of the history of the lumber in the roughly seven years it was stored there and including the time it was deemed City-owned surplus? I don’t know who, but I’m not saying nobody knew about the wood. I’m saying that I think who ever gave the wood away didn’t know.
B) Was there no communication in writing by the Lang administration to the incoming Mitchell, articulating the Ernestina's timber being stored by the City? No Communications or records from the Lang Administration offered to the Mitchell Administration about the donated wood at Quitttacas Pond Yard.
Gomes said he is especially concerned that nobody seems to know when the wood was taken from the yard, or even how it happened.
"Something happened. Somebody had keys to a gate, somebody had accessibility to equipment," he said. "This was a major operation, almost like a heist, like it was done in the wee hours of the night."
Gomes pointed out that there were no reports of any break-ins to the City Yard, or of anyone finding gates left open, "or anything not the way it was supposed to be."
"So again, there is something very suspicious about this, and when did it happen, and who is responsible for it?" Gomes said. "This Councilor says somebody is going to be held accountable."
In an email sent to WBSM this afternoon, Carvalho said "an honest mistake" by a Department of Public Infrastructure employee is the reason why the wood went missing. He said the City did conduct an internal investigation when it found out the wood had gone missing. He said the DPI employee, unaware of the wood's intended use, gave it away.
Carvalho said those associated with the Ernestina hadn't been to view the wood in over two years at the time it was given away, leading to the DPI employee's mistaken belief that it was unwanted. Carvalho said several lumber yards were asked if they would haul the wood if they were interested, but that they did not express any interest in removing the wood or using it.