EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 26, 2014

Judge to mill owner: Demolish ruins

Ex-cop faces contempt charge if he fails to get rid of rubble from Jan. 13 inferno

By Keith Eddings

---- — BOSTON — A state Superior Court judge yesterday gave the owner of the former Merrimac Paper mill until Monday to submit a plan for demolishing at least five contaminated and fire-ravaged buildings at the complex at the edge of downtown Lawrence.

Judge Bonnie MacLeod also ordered owner David Padellaro to stop salvage operations at the mill, blocked him from selling the property and froze his personal assets, including his home and bank accounts, in an effort to ensure that the cost of demolishing the parts of the mill that the city of Lawrence has condemned does not fall to the city and state.

In issuing every injunction sought by state Assistant Attorney General Tracy Triplett, MacLeod also suggested to Padellaro that the state has run out of patience trying to make him comply with earlier directives to demolish parts of the mill in compliance with environmental laws designed to contain asbestos and other toxins.

“I know this arm of the attorney general,” MacLeod told Padellaro, who represented himself at the hearing and did not oppose any of the injunctions Triplett sought. “They hate being stonewalled. They’ll come in like they’re going through the Bastille. If they feel they’re being stonewalled, then they start ratcheting up to contempt.”

Padellaro has disregarded several earlier edicts from city building officials and the state Department of Environmental Protection to demolish a half dozen or so of the 27 buildings at the South Canal Street complex since he bought it for $1 in 2010 from Andover developer Stephen Stapinski. Stapinski bought the mill for $84,000 at a bankruptcy auction in 2005 with the hope of building a commercial and residential development, but was unable to obtain city approvals.

Several fires have erupted at the mill under Padellaro’s ownership, including one on Jan. 13 that destroyed its original 1880 building and reignited the attention of the state and city, leading to yesterday’s hearing. The hearing ended with a warning from MacLeod that she may hold Padellaro in contempt if he does not stick to the schedule for the demolition and cleanup included in her injunction.

As Triplett requested, MacLeod gave Padellaro five days to submit a plan for demolishing several of the most badly damaged buildings at the mill — including some that the city ordered him to take down after other fires as long ago as four years — and for properly disposing of the asbestos and other toxins in the buildings.

After the state approves the plan, Padellaro will have two days to begin the work and 30 days to complete it, MacLeod ordered.

MacLeod also ordered Padellaro to immediately cover exposed asbestos at the site, to seal contaminated buildings that are structurally sound and to fence off another building that is not.

Padellaro said he already has begun securing the property.

MacLeod also ordered him to use only licensed asbestos abatement contractors for the decontamination work and to allow DEP inspectors unfettered access to the property.

Two DEP employees attended yesterday’s hearing but did not speak and would not identify themselves when it ended.

The injunction is the second court order Padellaro, a former city police officer discharged for misconduct in 1998, is facing at the mill. On Feb. 6, he was arraigned on criminal charges in Lawrence Housing Court for allegedly ignoring orders from city inspectors to secure the buildings that burned the month before and submit a plan for demolishing them.

The city began placing liens on the property since before the Merrimack Paper Co. declared bankruptcy in 2005 after 134 years in operation. The bills for back taxes, water and interest now amount to $5.4 million.

Padellaro has been removing machinery, equipment and metals from the complex since buying it in 2010, disregarding the liens the city has on the property and several orders from the state DEP to stop, DEP inspectors have alleged. The work has released cancer-causing asbestos into the air in violation of the state’s Clean Air Act, Triplett alleged in asking the court for the injunction stopping the work until the DEP approves a plan for containing the toxins.

Asked after yesterday’s hearing to comment on the injunction – and to explain why he would buy such a contaminated property with such a huge tax bill – Padellaro said only, “I don’t talk to the press.”