, Newburyport, MA

September 25, 2013

Shattered peace

Amesbury condo owners struggle with noise, lights from bridge construction

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — AMESBURY – It wasn’t long ago when Scott Taylor could stand out on his deck and enjoy a nice quiet view of the Merrimack River, but as construction has ramped up on the Whittier Bridge project, what was once a peaceful piece of waterfront property has become nearly uninhabitable.

Taylor and his family live in a condo at 525 Main Street, a four-unit residential complex directly adjacent to the Whittier Bridge. The Taylors occupy the condo closest to the bridge, and since construction began early last month, it has become almost impossible to deal with all of the noise and light generated by the project, he said.

Taylor said the noise usually begins around 6:30 a.m. when the workers start to arrive, and then the construction itself starts at 7 a.m. and lasts throughout the whole day. He added that whenever the workers drill into the bedrock down in the river, the whole house shakes, and it’s not uncommon for them to come home and find dozens of crooked pictures on the wall.

Then there is the clanking sounds made by the heavy equipment, the buzzing sounds made by drills and the constant roar of diesel engines made by the various machines. Even at night there is constant activity, and the noise and light from the site often makes it almost impossible for his three young children to sleep.

“The kids are having a hard time taking naps, they’re having a hard time sleeping at night, and it bothers us as well because two of the bedrooms are facing the highway and so you’re hearing all the work that’s going on,” Taylor said. “All the backup beeping from the trucks, and these huge lights that are shining that no amount of curtains blocks out, and it illuminates everything.”

The problem has been compounded by the fact that when the contractors cleared out all of the trees next to the highway to make room for the expanded road, the natural barrier protecting the Taylor’s home from highway noise and debris was suddenly gone.

“Most people never even knew there were homes back here, but now you can obviously see them clear as day,” Taylor said. “And that makes a big difference. We never used to be able to hear the road, and now it’s really loud.”

The project’s completion in 2016 isn’t expected to bring any relief for the Taylors and their neighbors either. Once the project is complete, the structure of the new bridge will come within 25 feet of the Taylors home, and the only thing expected to separate the highway from the house is a 30-foot wall that will top out around Taylor’s roof.

“They’ve said repeatedly that they’re not going to have any noise barriers or barriers to prevent cars or debris from flying off the highway, and even when the snowplows are plowing, that stuff shoots a long way,” Taylor said. “The wall they’re going to built is only 30 feet high, which is right about our roof line, which means we’re totally wide open to anything that comes off the highway.”

Besides being a major nuisance, Taylor said the project has also begun to become a financial hardship too. He recently had to replace his air conditioning unit because all of the dirt kicked up by the project clogged it, and he said getting the contractor Walsh and McCourt to reimburse it – as they are supposed to – has been a hassle.

The problems posed by the project were not unforeseen by Taylor and his neighbors. When the project was first announced and it became clear what was going to happen, Taylor and his neighbors put together a proposal that would have had the state take their property by eminent domain and use it as a temporary staging area for the contractors.

Once the project was complete, the hope was that the land could then be donated back to the city of Amesbury and converted into a waterfront park.

“Everybody liked the proposal, we took it to Mayor Kezer, [city councilor] Bob Gilday liked it, and they floated it to people in government, and everyone liked the idea,” Taylor said. “But at the time, about a year and a half ago, they didn’t know who was going to be awarded the contract … and so at that point they said they didn’t know who’d be responsible for cutting a check.”

Nothing ever came of the proposal, and in the year and a half since, the abutters have seen both their property values and quality of life plummet. Taylor said he wants to sell, if possible, but his next door neighbor recently sold his place for half what he originally paid for it, and Taylor figures he’d likely have to take a big hit too.

Taylor decided to speak out about his situation after Newburyport residents living on the other side of the river facing similar problems drew the attention of local and state officials, who vowed to have a noise barrier built to protect the homes from construction-related sounds. He hopes people will recognize that the abutters on the Amesbury side of the river need help too, and the fact that there are only a few of them doesn’t make their plight any less real.

“That’s essentially what everyone has told us, that we don’t matter,” Taylor said.