Sea gulls ruffle feathers in downtown New Bedford

A few years ago, Seamen’s Bethel Volunteer Clifford Roderiques remembers the strangest question he ever got from a tourist: “When do they stop the tape?”

“I said, ‘What tape are you talking about?’ And he said, ‘The tape of the sea gulls, it’s getting annoying,'” Roderiques recalled Friday. “I said to him ‘Turn around, that’s no tape.'”

The gulls were lined up along the Whaling Museum’s roof.

Sea gulls are a unique urban annoyance for those living in New Bedford. While many cities have to contend with pigeons, the Whaling City also must deal with the gulls, which are larger and louder.

Some, like Roderiques, say they don’t mind the white and grey birds, adding they think it adds to the city’s authenticity as a working port. Others say the birds are “flying rats,” squawking loudly and stealing food.

How you feel about the birds may just depend on whether they have defecated on you or something you own.

Take Sue Gonsalves, for example, who works at the New Bedford Merchant.

She said she doesn’t have a problem with the gulls and considers them “part of coastal life.”

“If you’re an outdoor person you shouldn’t have a problem with them,” she said. “Then again, if they dumped on my car all the time maybe I’d feel differently.”

Amy Moss said she hates the birds for that exact reason.

“Of course I don’t like them. I got pooped on,” she said.

Moss works at the convenience store across from the Pleasant Street Bus Station. She said sea gull-droppings are the reason she has to wash her car “at least once a week.”

“When I go up to the garage, it’s feces all over,” she said.

Bird droppings are not the only annoying part about the bird.

Michele Fisher, who said she is homeless, said the birds often steal the food she gets off the soup kitchen trucks. A sea gull even bit her once.

“I thought OK, maybe if I feed them some they’ll leave me the rest, but it doesn’t work,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong, I like birds, but the sea gulls I can’t stand.”

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SRTA partnership began in friendship, ended in feud

In fall 2007, Joseph Cosentino was getting tired of his day job.

An assistant to the clerk magistrate in Taunton, he said the position was wearing on him and his car. Though he loved working in the courthouse, he said, the drives between Taunton and his home in Dartmouth, as well as between courthouses in Eastham and Seekonk, were getting to be too much. He was ready for a change.

So when his friend of 30 years, John George Jr., offered to get him a job as the administrator of SRTA, a position that would come with a $25,000 pay raise and a work vehicle with gas and maintenance included, it didn’t take long for Cosentino to accept, he said.

George was the owner of the Union Street Bus Company and had held the contract to run SRTA’s bus services for more than 20 years.

“He said to me, ‘Look, I’ve done this for 20 years without interference and we are best friends, there’s no reason why we can’t work well together,'” Cosentino recalled this week. “We were like brothers.”

Though it started amicably, relations between Cosentino and George would soon sour. Cosentino said he became increasingly aware of “financial deficiencies” at USBC, telling George that he had to comply with federal regulations. When George had enough of the criticism, Cosentino said, George directed the Southeast Regional Transit Authority’s advisory board to put Cosentino on a leave of absence for the last four months of his contract.

George was indicted this month on charges of embezzling federal funds. George has referred all comments on the charges to his attorney, Thomas Kiley. Kiley declined to comment for this article.

SRTA documents and advisory board members from the time paint a slightly more complicated picture of the 30-year friendship that disintegrated. They say Cosentino was difficult to work with and not competent to manage a transportation authority.

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SRTA board had multiple warnings about financial deficiencies

NEW BEDFORD — Four years ago, Joseph Cosentino wrote a letter to the advisory board of the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority alleging that the Union Street Bus Company was not complying with federal financial requirements.

The letter, sent the day before Cosentino was ousted from his post as SRTA administrator, was the first of six warnings the board would receive alleging that USBC head John George Jr. was not complying with Federal Transit Administration regulations.

But it was not until February 2014, two months after the FTA asked to be reimbursed for $224,000 that had been improperly spent by USBC, that the board decided to act, handing the information over to law enforcement.

George was indicted by the U.S. Attorney’s office last week, charged with embezzlement for allegedly improperly receiving a pension from SRTA, having SRTA employees work on his personal farm during work hours, using SRTA vehicles for out of state shopping trips and using SRTA funds to buy cell phones and internet for friends, as well as to remodel his kitchen.

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, who was not in office when George worked for SRTA but is now vice chairman of the board, said Thursday that the FTA’s letter marked the first “substantial allegation” of misconduct at USBC.

But on Sept. 14, 2010, Cosentino sent his own letter to the SRTA board, which was preparing to fire him for what they called “failure to competently carry out the day to day duties of the Administrator’s job.”

Cosentino wrote to the board that George was trying to get him fired because Cosentino had concerns about USBC’s compliance with state and federal law.

“John told me that I was being too hard on him at SRTA,” Cosentino wrote. “I told him that he had to follow the regulatory requirement and that if the Authority found that he was not following the requirements of the FTA, he might not be awarded the operator contract under the upcoming (request for proposals.) He did not deny that he was behind the effort to remove me from office.”

On Sept. 15, the board voted to place Cosentino on administrative leave for the three months remaining in his contract with the transit authority.

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Offshore wind and fishing industries must ‘coexist to survive’


NEW BEDFORD — “Our people know what they’re doing at sea.”

That’s the common refrain of city and state politicians alike as they try to convince industry leaders and the public that New Bedford should be America’s offshore wind hub.

First we were whalers. Then we were fishermen. Next we will be offshore constructing, repairing and maintaining wind turbines.

The refrain was repeated by a city delegation to an offshore wind energy conference in Providence last fall, it was repeated by state legislators as they tried to fight an energy bill that could hurt offshore wind in the spring, and it was repeated by dignitaries as they welcomed the Charles W. Morgan whaleship into port this summer.

But while landlubbers may see offshore wind as simply a promising new industry that could bring new jobs, the fishermen who will have to work along these turbines often see something else.

They see another layer of federal rules and regulations to navigate. In addition to worrying about how many days they can go out to sea, they say they now have to worry about giant steel structures getting in their way and impeding their catch.

“There is a big feeling that this is just another thing encroaching on us,” said seafood consultant Jim Kendall. “But we know we’ll have to coexist to survive.”

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Questions raised about South Terminal management credentials

NEW BEDFORD — With just four months to go before work at South Terminal is complete, state and city officials are questioning whether the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center is up to the task of managing the facility.

The marine commerce terminal is being purpose-built to fit the needs of the American offshore wind industry, with Cape Wind already signing a lease option on the yet uncompleted site.

But some, like state Rep. William Straus, D-Mattapoisett, who chairs the Joint Committee on Transportation, are worried that MassCEC is ill equipped to manage such a complex site.

“That agency does good energy-related work but I am concerned it does not possess the bench strength to conduct the kind of technical review and evaluation process for management, use and access which should occur for a new $100 million port asset of the commonwealth,” Straus wrote last month in a letter to Rick Sullivan, chief of staff for Gov. Deval Patrick.

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State hires compliance officer to ease South Terminal minority hiring concerns

NEW BEDFORD — The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center has hired a compliance officer to monitor hiring goals at South Terminal in an effort to sooth tensions between the state agency and city minority leaders.

MassCEC announced Tuesday that New Bedford resident Donald Gomes will help monitor minority hiring goals for South Terminal construction. Gomes previously served 14 years as compliance manager for the City of New Bedford.

Tensions between MassCEC and minority leaders have been mounting for more than a year due to concerns about the lack of local and minority workers at the South Terminal construction site.

Bill White, offshore wind director for MassCEC, said Tuesday that employing local residents is “a challenge here.”

“I know our New Bedford numbers are low and there are efforts we are trying to make in order to increase these numbers,” he said. “Those goals are something we may not have lived up to.”

Asked why the state was hiring Gomes with only five months left until South Terminal is complete, White paused before saying there was no one reason or turning point.

“On one level we have done pretty good but we have also seen that we can do better,” he said.

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For bus commuters to Boston, it’s traffic, traffic and more traffic

trafficThe blinker makes a heavy “plink plunk” sound when it flashes as the bus changes lanes on Route 24 on Wednesday evening.

It’s 7:32 p.m. and the roughly 35 riders, many of whom are on their way back from working in Boston, are only halfway home to New Bedford.

For them, to commute to Boston for work is to live three hours each day on the DATTCO bus. That’s 15 hours per week, 780 hours per year.

The blinker’s plunking Wednesday echoes through the otherwise silent coach, as if taunting riders, keeping track of the monotony like a clock.

Plink. Plunk. Plink. Plunk. You’re. Stuck. On. This bus.

Marcy Rebello, 29, of Acushnet, is one of those commuting Wednesday. She doesn’t pay attention to the stop-and-go traffic the bus is battling, instead passing time reviewing a Power Point presentation about population health on her computer.

Rebello, who rode the bus to work a few years ago, started again this month after landing a job at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital.

The commute means she leaves her house at around 6 a.m. and often is not home until after 8:30 p.m. It is tiresome, and extraordinarily boring, she says.

But this week she discovered that the DATTCO bus has wi-fi.

“It was like a whole new world,” she says.

That’s because the worst part about commuting is that it just feels like a waste of time, Rebello says.

You’re stuck in a tin can, traveling between different parts of your life, in limbo.

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Harbor faces unique obstacles in nitrogen pollution

When you think of the environmental obstacles facing New Bedford Harbor, a heightened level of nitrogen isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. With toxic contaminants like polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) and heavy metals already the focus of major remediation efforts, it’s difficult to imagine how nitrogen, an element found in nature, could further deteriorate the harbor’s health.

Nitrogen is a colorless, odorless chemical element found in organic compounds like plants or urine. Aquatic life needs some amount of nitrogen to survive, but too much can drastically change an ecosystem’s delicate balance.

When nitrogen levels are too high, green algae and phytoplankton populations increase, overloading the ecosystem. The algae and phytoplankton suck oxygen needed by shellfish out of the water and block light from eel grass, impairing the entire habitat.

The algae can become so thick in summer months that it sticks to the sides of boats, and washes ashore in green waves. When the algae dies, it is decomposed by bacteria, which suck more oxygen from the harbor and create a stench that smells of rotten eggs.

“Most people are worried about polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) in the harbor,” President of the Buzzards Bay Coalition Mark Rasmussen said. “But when they complain about brown water, odor and floating algae, all of that is from too much nitrogen. The PCBs have nothing to do with it.”

In fact, toxic pollution in the bay has improved during the past four years (in part due to the ongoing PCB remediation process). Nitrogen levels, on the other hand, have deteriorated.

In the 2011 State of Buzzards Bay report published by the coalition, the bay’s toxics score went from 47 to 52 between 2007 and 2011, while the bay’s nitrogen score fell from 56 to 53. Generally, areas of the bay near towns that use sewer systems, like New Bedford and Fairhaven, are less nitrogen polluted than those on septic systems that barely treat wastewater. In New Bedford Harbor, however, a unique combination of geography and out-dated waste handling systems makes it far less healthy than the bay at large.

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