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Subject: Captain Gorham House Move
Addressed To: Board of Selectmen
From: Jan Wetzel
Date: June 15, 1998
Location: Town of Billerica, Massachusetts

Address to the Billerica Board of Selectmen, Monday, June 15, 1998

I have been attending meetings and hearings related to the relocation of the Gorham House for months now. And I have watched as my husband, with infinite patience and good faith, attempted to work with the administration to save a piece of the Town's history. I am completely fed up with the treatment he has received. Calling this treatment a continued lack of cooperation is a gross undertstatement. So now it's my turn to speak out. Patience, politicking and good faith have not worked, so now you get me - and you're probably not going to like what I have to say.

Two weeks ago this board voted 4 to 1 to approve the move of the Gorham House on June 28th. Steve stressed that in order to meet that date all the paperwork from the town needed to be submitted to Mass Highway immediately. Not only had this request been made in writing a month previous to that time, but as of this time that has not happened. This lack of responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the town manager. Not only was she appointed by the previous town manager to coordinate the move, but she is the town manager at this time. Over the last two weeks Steve has been assured daily by the town manager that the information would be faxed to Mass Highway the following day - Mass Highway is still waiting. Although Friday she did manage to call to tell them that the move would now take two days. With all the meetings that have been held, or during the more than 500 phone calls that Steve has placed to the town Hall since the beginning of this project, it mystifies me that this was never mentioned previously.

This is a 2 ½ mile move, almost half of which has no overhead wires to be removed, which means the house can move relatively quickly - 2 to 3 mph (keep in mind this is less than a 3 mile trip). House moves are nothing unusual. In April alone, Mass Highway District 4 which is our district, had three moves on State roads: one in Beverly, one in Salem which traveled 2 miles on Route 107 and a third in Peabody and Danvers which made part of it's journey on Routes 128 and 95. Two weeks ago Curry College moved a house from Canton to Milton. Last weekend a house in Arlington was moved. Earlier this year Chelmsford had a house move and Tewksbury has two scheduled in the near future. Many houses have been moved in Billerica in the past including the Bull House, all of "Charles Stearns'" moves (some of which traveled the same route), and the third house built by Henry Bowers (identical to the Gorham House) which was moved to the Middlesex Turnpike.

Early in this process the town manager presented Steve with a $30,000 estimate of the town's expenses for the move. I have provided a copy for each of you. Included in this bill was an estimate for eight personnel from the fire department broken down as 2 men before the move, 8 the day of the move and 2 after the move (what in the world are they supposed to do?); eight policemen, being billed $45 per hour which is considerably higher than the $33 per hour rate I was quoted; department of public works workers, and tree department personnel. There is also a $1,000 line item for miscellaneous expenses and a $5,000 contingency estimate (what is a contingency?) Another interesting inclusion is the estimate for traffic light removal of $6,000. Steve has subsequently spoken with Tri-State, the contractor listed in the estimate, who quoted us $2,600. I wonder how it increased more than 150% in the town manager letter? The estimate also mentions liability insurance. Due to Osco's requirements we are, as Steve has mentioned before, carrying a $5 million insurance policy. This policy, which was written specifically for this house move and is costing us in the neighborhood of $250 per week, now needs to be renegotiated because the time period is about to elapse and the house has not moved. As a result of this estimate Steve requested records of the relocation of the Bull House from both the treasurer's and accountant's offices. The accountant's office produced two boxes of receipts that had absolutely nothing to do with that move. The treasurer's office claims that the records for that year are missing.

Since the inception of this project, the town manager has done nothing to facilitate the move. She has called endless meetings during which nothing has been accomplished, strirred up the business community with misinformation and has ignored the mandate of this board to get the house moved on the 28th. And on a very picky note, after all this time, she still insists on mispronouncing our name.

Next, we have the town safety officer, who has repeatedly refused to cooperate on this project. He simply says detours can't be created and the move will be too disruptive. Even though he has worked on many of the previous house moves in town including, most recently, the Bull House His inability to act simply confirms my belief that he is incompetent and should be relieved of his safety duties. His problem with this move may stem from my previous statements, both in the press and before this board, that he has not acted in the best interest of the residents of Billerica and simply does not do his job. As a matter of fact, he doesn't do his job to the point that this board created a traffic advisory committee to look into the traffic complaints of Billerica residents which have long since been ignored. He too has spent more time and effort trying to derail this project than facilitate it. His final act of defiance was to send a fax to Mass Highway last week confirming his belief that this move cannot take place. He has no concrete reasons, just his dislike of me.

And then there is the tree, moth and park superintendent. In January, the town tree, moth and park superintendent told Steve and the town planner that he had no problem with our tree removal request and that he would take care of it. Long after our scenic road approval by the planning board on February 23rd, the town tree, moth and park superintendent felt that he needed to hold his own tree hearing for the trees we need to cut on Dudley Road. This was held on April 30th. (You can count the number of tree hearings that have been held in this town over the last decade on one hand.) So he posted the trees and made a big fuss over our request. The only people who voiced any concern over the trees on Dudley Road both work for the police - one in Billerica and one for the state police, even the town safety officer attended. It is curious to note that none of these people felt the need to question the removal of 1,300 or more trees on Concord Road for the proposed road widening. The town tree, moth and park superintendent insists that he has the final word on tree removal, he just doesn't grasp the fact that because the trees we are seeking to remove are on a scenic road as well as in a riverfront area, they also fall under the jurisdiction of the planning board and conservation commission who have approved both the removal and a replanting plan in that area. As for the replanting, the only interest indicated at the town tree, moth and park superintendent's hearing was that we spend great sums of money on very large trees, hopefully as much as $6,900 according to his May 1st interview with the Lowell Sun.

The other person with an interest in trees was owner the funeral home on Concord Road. He is very concerned with his beech trees. The town tree, moth and park superintendent, the town safety officer and funeral home owner fail to understand that although it has been determined by more than one tree expert that the house will not damage the trees, they are, like the utility wires blocking a public right of way, which is addressed by State law.

And speaking of State law, I will now get to our building inspector - who is forever quoting chapter and verse in an effort to prove her capabilities. Four, maybe six weeks ago, at a regularly scheduled meeting with this board, a selectman asked the building inspector what she still needed from Steve to move the house. She replied -his septic plan. The selectman clarified - that's all? And she replied "yes".

Since that time, not only has she received an approved septic plan, she has buried Steve in a continual flow of additional paperwork, all of which duplicate forms he has previously submitted. When asked for clarification, she gave a vague response by letter. She refuses to answer questions or meet with residents. No one in the building department is ever available to the public, and the hours of operation make doing business with the building department virtually impossible for any homeowner who works for a living.

The building inspector is also under the impression that she approves building moves. According to MGL 85 section 18 that is the responsibility of the selectmen.

Two weeks ago a house, very similar to the Gorham House, was moved through Arlington. It was a 4.5 mile move down Broadway, onto the Alewife Brook Parkway and up Mass Ave to the center. The next day it continued onto Pleasant Street, which is also Route 60, almost to Route 2. The owners said the town administration could not have been more helpful; this administration could not have been less helpful. I have included a comparison chart of the two moves. The Arlington move took place on Saturday and Sunday. Hundreds of business and thousands of homes lost power. They were given no official notice, only a small article in the local paper on the previous Thursday. On Sunday several churches lost power - somehow they managed to hold services without it. In Billerica, we have the pastor of a Boston Road church, who has been told repeatedly by Massachusetts Electric that this church will be without power briefly before 5:00 a.m. the day of the move and again later that day as the power is switched over from another source. He is still blustering to the newspapers and anyone else who will listen, that he won't have power and parishioners will not be able to get to church. It might be out of the way, but there are other roads available to reach the church; there are other churches of that denomination. For that matter, we should be off Boston Road in ample time for the pastor's Sunday morning services.

House Move Comparison Billerica Arlington
Number of days required for move 1 2
Distance traveled 2.5 miles 4.5 miles
Police detail 6-10 policemen 3 policemen
Fire Personnel 8 2
Fire lines to be removed and re-spliced 8 20
DPW Costs $2,000 None
Contingency Fee $5,000 None
Miscellaneous $1,000 None

(Billerica numbers based on town's estimate dated April 16, 1998)

The pastor should practice what he preaches, be a bit more neighborly, and try to help us and wish us well, rather than whining about electricity. I'll bet more churches on this planet hold services without electricity than with it. The business community keeps asking the newspapers about reimbursement - Who is going to reimburse us for the money we have been forced to spend in an effort to get the town administration to do their jobs?

What is the point of this tirade? I feel there is an element in this town hall that has no concept of their responsibility to the residents and taxpayers. There is no recognition of the fact that their salaries are paid by the citizens of this town and that the primary responsibility is to support our needs. This group has an attitude that this is their town and the rest of us are simply allowed to live here. Much of this group's opposition to this house move stems from the fact that Steve and I are not members of this insiders group. That we outbid "one of their own" - a Billerica police officer -- is unacceptable to them and every effort has been made to stop us. I think a change is in order. There are hardworking, caring people working in town hall and serving on several of the boards, but their ability to perform their jobs is being hampered by the poor attitude of much of the management.

I would also ask the selectmen to appoint a new liaison to help us complete this move and allow us to hire police from outside Billerica if that is what is needed to formalize the route detours and ensure a smooth move. I have no complaints of the police department as a whole, I am concerned about the extent of the town safety officer's influence. We would also like to use our own contractor to complete the bulk of the tree trimming before the move date, which will speed up the move significantly. I do not feel that the town manager, the town safety officer, the building inspector or the town tree, moth and park superintendent is capable of acting in any interest other than their own. I repeat - I feel it is time for a change.

Signed: Jan Wetzel

(note: the above was editted to remove personal references - titles of town officials/residents/businesses were substituted)


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