, Newburyport, MA

April 15, 2014

Family faces danger, misery in shadow of bridge project

Abutters atop bridge project find daily hell from pounding, rattling

By Jim Sullivan
Staff writer

---- — AMESBURY — When Scott Taylor moved his family to their Main Street condominium, he was expecting to enjoy an easy-going life by the Merrimack River.

What the Taylors say they have gotten instead is akin to a haunted house.

“There are fog lights that turn midnight into Monday morning,” Taylor said. “There are vibrations that make all the pictures crooked, daily. Many days we have to scream at each other to hear what the other person is saying. I don’t want to say we live through it — we suffer through it.”

The Taylors live in the corner unit of a four-unit residential complex directly adjacent to the John Greenleaf Whittier/I-95 Bridge, which is in the midst of a $292 million reconstruction project. Before the bridge project began, the highway was separated from their home by a buffer of trees and vegetation, a state-owned parcel of land in the highway right-of-way.

But that relative quiet changed quickly. The plans for the project called for clear-cutting the buffer and moving the highway much closer to the condos. Where once there were trees, there is now an active and noisy construction site.

The Main Street staging area for the contractors is directly next to the Taylors’ home. The bridge itself is within a few hundred feet of the Taylors’ property, and the highway will be only 25 feet away when the bridge expansion is complete in 2016. According to Taylor, the daily noise begins around 4:30 a.m. and can continue until 2 a.m.

“Everyone is miserable when we are in the house,” Taylor said. “Tempers are short. The quality of life is zero. Even a simple meal is ruined by the vibrations and noise.”

A father of three girls ­­— ages 8, 5 and 3 — Taylor said the drilling period at the beginning of the construction so far has been the worst experience. It was like his home and cars were being sandblasted every day.

“There was a time, every day from six in the morning til whenever they stopped when the house would vibrate (violently),” Taylor said. “When you are a parent, you want to provide the best home you can for your kids. Here we were in this beautiful, waterfront enclave where it was very nice to live. A great place for the girls to grow up. And for almost a year now, at least one of them says; ‘Daddy, I hate where we live.’ And it breaks your heart. This is Amesbury, not Fallujah.”

“I hate it,” 8-year-old Sami Taylor said. “I want to move, I don’t like this. Light flashes through my window every single night. I can’t sleep.”

The Taylors bought the 2,247-square-foot riverfront condominium in 2003. Seven years later, plans for rebuilding the bridge began to take shape, along with plans to widen the highway.

According to city records, the Taylors’ home is assessed at $462,700, with a tax bill of just over $9,700.

Life in the “Problem House,” as it has become to be known, has become unlivable, according to Taylor. Before the project began, Taylor and his neighbors made a proposal to have the state take their property by eminent domain and then use it for a temporary staging area. The neighbors then proposed that the land could be donated back to the city to be turned into a park.

The state, however, said no land would be taken to fulfill the project, and so the neighborhood’s proposal was declined. Eventually the state took a 10-foot easement from the Taylors’ property, but not the property itself.

“I realize this is going to happen and that there are going to be some consequences to it,” Taylor said. “But at the same time, when you build something this large and it ends 25 feet from our house and the construction of it is 10 feet away from our house, I think that constitutes a full taking of our house. It is not just the easement that they took.

“We want the state to just take our place. Just take it. We are in the specter of a catastrophe at any moment and I am not being dramatic. There have been times when the crane has been over the easement line for a weekend.”

It was a crane that caused an incident at the Taylor home two weeks ago. Taylor and his 5-year-old were returning home and found an approximately 50-foot launch girder had drifted out of control, heading toward the 3-year-old’s bedroom. The only thing stopping it was a cherry tree. The incident was captured on video where one of the contractors can be heard yelling: “I got no control. There is an (expletive) kid down there.”

Taylor had had enough and was able to call a meeting with the construction company, Walsh-McCourt, the state Department of Transportation and Amesbury Mayor Ken Gray last week, all while his house vibrated. He said Walsh-McCourt did offer to relocate the Taylors through the length of time that they feel it is too dangerous to stay. Although Taylor called the meeting a good start, a temporary cure is not what he and his family are looking for.

“We need to get out of here, right now,” Taylor said. “The ultimate goal is for the state to take our entire property, not just the easement that they took. What they do with it, I can care less. They can turn it into offices, they can house employees here, they can make it a soup kitchen, I really don’t care. I just want out. But I’m not just going to get out and take whatever they can give me — it has to be fair and just and it has to make sense.”

For now Taylor will continue to find himself the center of attention wherever he goes in town.

“Forget friends. Every person that I talk to says, ‘You’re that guy? You live in that house? Every time we drive by it, we feel so sorry for those people because that is just a horrible situation,’” Taylor said. “They see the cranes, they hear all the noise when they drive by. And our friends, when they come over and they actually see the launch girders, one of them burst into tears the first time she saw it.”