EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 6, 2014

Deadline passes with no action at former mill

By Keith Eddings
keddings@eagletribune.com

---- — LAWRENCE — The owner of the former Merrimac Paper mill missed Monday’s court deadline to submit plans for demolishing several teetering buildings on the property and to contain the asbestos exposed in the inferno that rolled through the site on Jan. 13.

State Superior Court Judge Bonnie MacLeod on Feb. 25 gave mill owner David Padellaro until Monday to submit the demolition and clean-up plans to the state Department of Environmental Protection. Her order came with a warning that Attorney General Martha Coakley could seek to hold Padellaro in contempt if he did not meet the deadline.

“It has not been received by us,” DEP spokesman Ed Coletta said yesterday, three days past Monday’s deadline for submitting the plans. “We’re in contact with the attorney general about that.”

Jillian Fennimore, a spokeswoman for Coakley, would not say how the office would respond to Padellaro’s failure to submit the plans. Speaking generally, she said the office could ask MacLeod for a hearing on the issue, which could result in a contempt of court citation.

Coakley sought the order directing Padellaro to take the first steps in demolishing the scorched shells of the mill buildings after he disregarded a series of earlier DEP directives over the last three years to clean up other buildings on the former mill site that were damaged in earlier fires.

At Coakley’s request, MacLeod issued an injunction directing Padellaro to submit his demolition plans to the DEP to ensure that the buildings come down in a way that won’t further spread the asbestos, a carcinogen, inside them. In the meantime, MacLeod ordered Padellaro to immediately cover exposed asbestos on the property, to seal contaminated buildings that are structurally sound and to fence off another building that is not.

MacLeod’s 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 Jan. 13 and submit a plan for demolishing them that meets DEP approval. The city asked for the plan by Jan. 16, a day after state arson investigators left the site.

The investigators have not determined a cause for the blaze.

Padellaro could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Lawyer Sal Tabit, who is representing Padellaro against the criminal charges in Housing Court, said the city is satisfied with the progress his client is making.

“On the last court date in Lawrence, (Clerk-Magistrate Susan Trippi) asked the city if things were moving along and what they wanted to do,” Tabit said. “The city indicated at the time that, yes, it was proceeding in the manner that it was supposed to proceed. That doesn’t mean there was a plan approved by whomever or that everyone was in agreement on it. My understanding has been that at least as it pertains to the issues in the Housing Court, that demolition is on the right track.”

City Building Commissioner Peter Blanchette said yesterday that no plans have been submitted.

The Merrimac Paper Co. on South Union Street was one of the city’s most prosperous businesses for longer than a century, producing 125 tons of paper a week and employing 275 people in a sprawling maze of 27 buildings. It declared bankruptcy in 2005 after 134 years.

Andover developer Stephen Stapinski bought the complex for $84,000 at a bankruptcy auction in 2005 and sold it for $1 to Padellaro five years later when he was unable to win city approval to develop the property.

The city began placing liens on the property year or two before the bankruptcy. The bills for back taxes, water and interest now amount to $5.4 million.

That bill is Padellaro’s to pay, along with the demolition and clean-up costs.

Tabit said Padellaro’s only resources are the metals and machinery he can salvage from the former mill, a process he began just after buying the property despite the city liens.

“If anyone expects David Padellaro to have some account that he’s going to be able to write a check on to comply with whatever order, that’s not going to happen,” Tabit said yesterday. “The only way to clean it up is the city’s going to have to clean it up or another investor comes along and is willing to clean it up.”