By Jill Harmacinski
---- — LAWRENCE — The burned out remains of the Merrimac Paper Co. are unsafe, unsightly and toxic. A lawyer for the building owner David Padellaro yesterday said his client realizes this, but needs a month to work out demolition plans.
“All we are asking is for 30 days for the safe and secure demolition of the property,” said Methuen attorney Sal Tabit, who Padellaro retained Monday to represent him at a housing court hearing yesterday.
Susan Trippi, clerk magistrate for the Northeast Housing Court, presided over the 10:30 a.m. hearing yesterday to determine if there’s probable cause to issue a criminal complaint against Padellaro to tear down Merrimack Paper Co. at 9 So. Canal St. gutted by fire Jan. 13.
Trippi took the matter under advisement and could issue her decision on the criminal complaint by late this week. The Northeast Housing Court is on the second floor of the Fenton Judicial Center — the same building that houses Lawrence District Court.
In brief remarks, Raymond Hileman, a city code enforcement inspector, said the mill buildings are compromised, unsafe and need to be torn down. Tabit agreed.
“The place is unsafe. There is no question about it,” Tabit said.
But Tabit said the city told Padellaro, 50, of Seabrook, N.H., to demolish the mill two days after the fire. His client needs additional time to make plans, he said.
Trippi asked if Padellaro has the money for the job. “Can he actually accomplish this?” she said.
Tabit said the mill is steel frame and could reap between $150,000 to $175,000 in scrap metal value. Padellaro may be able to leverage the $10,000 in demolition costs in exchange for scrap metal value, Tabit said.
A contractor “could do the work in exchange for the value of the scrap metal,” Tabit said.
Padellaro, a former Lawrence police officer fired in 1998 for misconduct, owed the city $5.4 million in unpaid property taxes, sewer and water bills, fire watch fees and interest. He inherited the debts when he bought the mill from Andover developer Stephen Stapinski for $1 in 2010.
Under questioning from Trippi, Padellaro and Tabit acknowledged asbestos is present in the building. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection is aware of the asbestos and most recently issued a report about it eight months ago.
“It’s not airborne. It’s protected,” Padellaro told Tripp.
The housing court hearing was held after city officials said Padellaro ignored the city’s order to secure the building and submit a plan for demolishing it, which was due Jan. 17.
In 2010, the city and the state began issuing orders to Padellaro to demolish parts of the mill. Padellaro was also ordered to develop plans to remove asbestos and oil, environmental contaminants, from the two-acre site where the Merrimac Paper Co. operated for 130 years.
Padellaro partially demolished one of the buildings on the site, a project that stopped when crews reached a boiler room where demolition was more complicated and expensive because of asbestos. Padellaro allegedly disregarded an order to inventory environmental toxins on the site, causing the DEP to hire a contractor to do the job.
Merrimac Paper Co. went bankrupt in 2005. After the fire earlier this month, state fire investigators picked through the ruins for three days. Acting Lawrence Fire Chief John Marsh called the cause of the fire “questionable.” But to date, no definitive findings have been released.
While in the Fenton Judicial Center, Padellaro yesterday also took care of an outstanding arrest warrant issued in a criminal case against him from the summer.
On July 11, he was convicted by a District Court jury of bouncing three checks totaling $6,705 to Western Oil, a Rhode Island company he hired to empty oil tanks at the former mill. Other contractors walked off the job, saying Padellaro was not paying him.
He was given a suspended sentence of a year in jail, placed on two years probation, ordered to pay the oil company and submit samples of his DNA.
An arrest warrant for Padellaro was issued after he failed to appear on Jan. 17 for a probation hearing. The warrant was recalled and Padellaro is due back in district court in March.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.