State replaces longtime Lagoon Pond bridge tender Bob Maciel

In this 2009 photo, Bob Maciel stood in his familiar post tending to the old drawbridge. — File photo by Lynn Christoffers

With little notice to the man who held the job for 30 years, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT) signed a contract with a Salisbury company to operate the Lagoon Pond temporary drawbridge.

Bob Maciel of West Tisbury has held the bridge tender job for the past 30 years, but he will no longer man the bridge that is raised to allow boats to pass between Lagoon Pond and Vineyard Haven Harbor.

After consolidating the functions of maintenance and operation of the bridge, DOT put the job out to bid. SPS New England, a road and bridge contractor that operates several other drawbridges in Southeastern Massachusetts, won the contract.

“For all the drawbridges, we have contracts for scheduled emergency repairs,” DOT spokesman Mike Verseckes said. “They are put in place to address various concerns. It includes operation as well. The operations and maintenance have been combined into one contract.”

Mr. Maciel said that he learned of the change when he went to the bridge on October 1, and found the new contractor operating the equipment. He said they asked him to help train new operators.

“Just the way they did it bothered me,” Mr. Maciel said. “They just wanted me to get out of here. So I obliged them. I picked up my stuff and got out.”

Mr. Maciel said he has agonized over the way he was replaced in the position he held for three decades. “I had a wicked time,” he said. “I had an awful time for quite a while. I’m just starting to get over it. It turns my stomach inside out.”

Harbormaster Jay Wilbur said Mr. Maciel’s job performance was never an issue. He also said he has no concerns about the new company, but he is considering whether the town of Tisbury should have a role in the operation of the drawbridge.

“I’m evaluating whether the town should get involved,” Mr. Wilbur said. “I think there’s potential for the town to be involved. My view is it would better accommodate the boating public. My department is involved fairly regularly.”

Town officials say Mr. Maciel will be missed. Melinda Loberg, chairman of the Lagoon Pond Bridge committee, said she liked hearing Mr. Maciel’s distinctive voice notifying authorities by radio of bridge operations.

“I miss Bob Maciel’s voice when the bridge opens,” Ms. Loberg said. “It’s a shame. He put in a lot of years doing that.”

Simpler time

Mr. Maciel began his term as bridge tender when there was little regulation or oversight from DOT. For years, he says, he got a letter from state officials in the springtime, asking if he wanted to continue.

Mr. Maciel does not currently hold a hoisting license, a state requirement to operate a drawbridge. He said the state never asked him about any license while he was the bridge tender.

“After doing the bridge for 30 years, I didn’t think I needed all that stuff,” Mr. Maciel said. “Doing it is the best experience you can get.”

He criticized SPS New England for their operation of the bridge. He said the company does not notify local authorities when the bridge is about to go up. He said communication with police, fire, and ambulance departments is necessary for public safety.

He also said that according to logs SPS New England lifted the bridge 52 times over a three-day training period, causing a significant inconvenience to local drivers.

Mr. Maciel’s assistant, Earl Littlefield, has worked with SPS New England in training new personnel. Mr. Littlefield holds the required hoisting license, and has 15 years experience as the assistant bridge tender.

SPS New England did not respond to a request for comment. The company has wide experience operating and maintaining bridges in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, according to its website.

In July of 2010, the U.S. Occupational and Health Administration (OSHA) cited the company for serious workplace safety violations, after an explosion at one of its facilities. The explosion injured a welder. The company agreed to pay $14,500 in fines for five separate safety violations. OSHA has cited the company for five other violations since 2006.