, Newburyport, MA

April 25, 2014

Whittier Bridge work halted

MassDOT stops project over concerns of worker's behavior

By Jim Sullivan
Staff writer

---- — AMESBURY — The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT) suspended work on the John Greenleaf Whittier/I-95 Bridge project late yesterday afternoon after a contractor was believed to have drawn offensive, taunting graffiti directed toward residents abutting the project in Amesbury.

“MassDOT expects the same standard of behavior and professionalism from its contractors that it expects from its own employees,” DOT spokesman Mike Verseckes said. “Given the proximity of the job to the residence, we are looking into this and we are taking this seriously.”

DOT Acting District Highway Director Paul D. Stedman sent a letter to construction company Walsh-McCourt, JV1 demanding the suspension of work on the $292 million project after a resident of the Whittier Point Condominiums, Scott Taylor, whose home lies within 20 feet of the construction, awoke to find graffiti, apparently addressed to him, written on a launch girder yesterday morning.

Photos show chalk graffiti reading, “Welcome to Fallujah baby!,” which Taylor believes is a direct response to a statement he made to The Daily News last week while detailing his difficult experiences living so close to the project, including excessive noise, constant vibrations and harsh lighting from fog lights.

“This is Amesbury, not Fallujah,” he said at the time.

MassDOT officials spent yesterday investigating the matter, after being notified by Taylor of the incident. The state officials decried the worker’s actions and expressed concern with “the lack of action taken by Walsh-McCourt JV1 with regards to the offensive and inappropriate graffiti,” in a letter sent to Walsh-McCourt officials late yesterday afternoon ordering them to immediately suspend work.

As of press time, work on the massive Whittier Bridge reconstruction project remained halted. MassDOT officials said yesterday the project will remain shut down until Walsh-McCourt JV1 submits a report and action plan to address the situation.

“This is completely unacceptable,” Verseckes said. “We hope that the situation is resolved as soon as possible.”

Taylor, his wife and three daughters, ages 8, 5 and 31/2, live in the corner unit of the Main Street condominium complex directly adjacent to the construction project. When the bridge project began last summer, plans 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.

Taylor said yesterday that he believes a worker who he says has taunted him in the past is the person responsible for the graffiti.

Taylor said he was forced to explain to his 8-year-old daughter what the words meant.

“I told her that Fallujah is a place where there was fighting and there was a war there,” Taylor said. “So basically what the guy who wrote this to us is saying is, ‘Welcome to the war.’ She is now scared that the people over there are bullying us and are going to hurt us. That’s what she is scared about. Because they talk about bullying in school and she knows that it starts with teasing and it eventually ends up with violence.”

In addition to the state, Taylor notified Amesbury Mayor Ken Gray and his attorney Robert Ciampitti Jr. about the incident.

“I understand from my clients that this is not the first example of escalated tension and retaliation,” Ciampitti said. “It is really just the latest example. It’s just the first time that the employees of (Walsh-McCourt JV1) have been caught.”

The graffiti was removed by yesterday afternoon and the letter of suspension was sent soon after.

“This is outrageous,” Gray said. “The DOT owes the Taylors an explanation and the individual should be fired immediately.”

The incident comes just as the Taylors seemed to be coming to a resolution to their problem after a meeting was held at their home on April 4 with Walsh-McCourt JV1, DOT, Gray and Ciampitti. Although the state took only a 10-foot easement from their property last year, the possibility of taking the house outright through eminent domain has been discussed.

“We have been nothing but cooperative,” Taylor said. “We have been nothing but polite and respectful to everyone at DOT, the construction company people and we haven’t said one word to any of those construction workers, even the guy who has been taunting me for months. So for them to turn around and do this, I want that guy fired and never to return to this project.”