Lumber Meant For Ernestina Restoration Instead Just Given Away [OPINION]
In June of 2009, the Fairhaven Mills building was razed to make room for the future. The future, in this case, was the home of a Market Basket supermarket and some satellite shops around it on and around Coggeshall Street in New Bedford.
Mayor Scott Lang convinced the winning bidder for the demolition contract to donate the rare and expensive southern yellow pine that was once the skeletal frame of the long standing structure. The donation was steered toward the restoration of the historic schooner, the Ernestina. The Dickinson Development Corporation agreed with Lang to set aside and properly care for the valuable timber.
It was eventually taken to the city yard in Rochester at Quittacas Pond. The property is listed as being at 1 Negus Way in E. Freetown but is also considered to be in Rochester. The reason I bring this up is the two towns are in two different counties which could come into play later. The timber was originally was for some time inside a storage facility. At some point around 2015, the wood was apparently moved and stored outside, uncovered without even tarps and ropes.
I have to note this was also away from the cameras around the facility--until it disappeared, alleged by the city to have been given to a developer between 2016-2017. I still need to nail down the specifics which for some reason were not provided during Taylor Cormier's original inquiry.
The Mitchell Administration's Jonathan Carvalho responded to WBSM News Director Taylor Cormier's 2017 inquiry over the matter by stating, via email, that the city publicly posted a surplus property notice to auction the lumber, but was met with no interest.
Zero bidders. Zero tire kickers. No one even offered a nickel? Really? This rare southern yellow pine goes for big bucks and is in big demand.
"We have looked into the matter and found that recovered wooden planks from the Fairhaven Mills site were stored at the Quittacas Water Treatment Plant (Lakeville, MA) since 2009. In 2016, apparently unaware of the promised intention years earlier to provide it to the Ernestina, DPI (Department of Public Infrastructure) unsuccessfully tried to sell it as a surplus city property and then gave it away." - Jonathan Carvalho, APR Public Information Office, City of New Bedford
Cormier accepted the statement. I am choosing not to. Not yet.
First off, I was unable to find any such public notice. In fact, an attorney working for the City was also unable to locate it for me when I requested it.
Secondly, it is hard to imagine that no one made a bid or sign of interest even if the notice somehow does exist and did come out publicly when the city estimated (loosely) that it did.
Did I mention that this stuff ain't cheap, and it is in high demand? Looking back to the Cliftex Mill demolition issue in 2007, someone was apparently prepared to buy all that yellow pine for $1.5 million from the property owner, according to an article in the Standard-Times. One expert was quoted to say that the yellow pine market was exploding then. Harry James, owner of New England Demolition and Salvage, stated that yellow pine timbers do have value.
"They do pay good money for it," he said.
I waited a week, and the City has not produced the DPI surplus property public notice for this item. I also doubt, incredibly strongly, that the enormous piles of timber kept on the City property was just sitting there, and no one knew any thing about it or why it was there all those years.
I don't like the story provided, and I think it should be looked into until everything can be verified.
At best, the City was not the owner of the property, and Mayor Lang merely offered to facilitate storage for the valuable timbers until such time that the Ernestina restoration team was ready to take it away. It was a good deed by both the City and the developer. It should have gone a long way in saving hundreds of thousands of dollars for the restoration project.
The demolition company, Dickinson Development Corp., technically owned the lumber, unless they signed ownership to the Ernestina Organization, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit. But one of them should have been contacted by the City DPI, even if the promise to the Ernestina folks was somehow lost on the department. We aren't talking about 60 or 70 years. We are talking about seven years.
Surely more than a handful of City workers were there from 2009 through the date that the wood was taken away. How could anyone there not know a lot about the history of the enormous pile of valued wood that was there everyday since 2009, wood that had to have been moved at least once by the department workers there?
How could this happen, and what happened? Stay tuned.
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 email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @RadioKenPittman. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.