Orange paint has Peabody city councilor seeing red

Peabody City Counilor-at-Large David Gravel stands among the orange marking paint that covers the sidewalk in front of his house and carries over into his garden and lawn. (Spenser R. Hasak)

PEABODY — David Gravel had no idea what awaited him when he arrived at his Tara Road home two weeks ago.

The once green lawn in front of the city councilor’s Colonial resembled the canvas of a Jackson Pollock painting. The New York abstract expressionist artist, who died in 1956, perfected his technique of splashing household paint onto horizontal surfaces.

“My daughter told me a Comcast worker had been there with cans of orange spray paint and refused to stop,” he said. “He rudely told her it was none of her business and he had every right to be there. He was also upset that he had to work around the hedges because he wanted to be home by 5.”

Gravel, who has maintained his sense of humor, said he did not consider the lawn a work of art.

“My first thought was to send whoever did it an application to Montserrat College of Art,” he said, referring to the graphic design school on the North Shore. 

What wasn’t so funny was it took more than a week and lots of calls to contact the right person at the telecommunications giant. 

After trying unsuccessfully to reach a cable company manager on his own, Gravel turned to the mayor’s office for help. As a result, he got a name and reached a Comcast executive who apologized and promised to make it right.
The Comcast official told Gravel the company typically notifies customers of such work, so they don’t just show up without warning. 

“He told me they will return the property to the way it was and not just because I’m on the city council, but it’s what they do,” he said. 

Still, Gravel said he wonders if he wasn’t a city official and lacked a connection to City Hall, how this would have played out. 

“I knew enough about the city to maneuver my way around to get the information I needed to contact the right person at Comcast,” he said. “I’m not sure Joe Citizen would have the same success.”

The clean-up, which included power washing the lawn, hedges, sidewalk and street was completed Thursday.

As it turned out, no digging was required. Instead, Comcast  snaked the cable underground and avoided disrupting the green.  

Marc Goodman, a Comcast Corp. spokesman, said the cable company has shared feedback about the incident to Dig Safe System Inc., the clearinghouse that notifies participating utility companies of plans to dig. 

But Robert Finelli, Dig Safe’s president, said the nonprofit does not mark utility lines. He said that job is done by USIC, a national company, hired by Comcast, which boasts on its website that it performs more than 70 million locations of underground utilities annually in the U.S. and Canada.

The company could not be reached for comment.

City Councilor-at-Large Anne Manning-Martin, who saw pictures of Gravel’s lawn on his cell phone at a recent city council meeting, said she thought it was the work of a graffiti artist.

“It looked like the worker was either drunk or Dave got tagged,” she said. 

The incident comes one month after Mayor Edward Bettencourt Jr. fulfilled a long-term pledge and licensed RCN Corp., the New Jersey communications company, to offer cable TV and high-speed Internet services in Peabody. 

Since 1979, Philadelphia-based Comcast Corp., through Xfinity, the company’s TV and Internet service provider, has been the only game in town.

The mayor did not respond to a request for comment. 

Bettencourt has told The Item one of the most frequent complaints he receives concerns the lack of a Comcast alternative. 

“I’ve always been frustrated that they’ve had a stranglehold on cable service and I felt we needed another provider,” he said at the time.

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