LAWRENCE — A month after much of the historic Merrimac Paper mill was destroyed by fire, the city’s new mayor wrote to federal environmental officials asking for help cleaning up the “highly toxic and dangerous property.”
The historic mill complex already had suffered through a string of indignities in the decade before Mayor Daniel Rivera took office, including a bankruptcy, a botched effort at redevelopment, several earlier fires, unpaid property taxes and water bills that reached $5.4 million, and a midnight salvaging operation by its new owner that stripped the buildings of their metals, machinery and bricks.
But city officials said their greatest concern was that owner David Padellaro was ignoring orders — some of them years old — from the city and state and two courts to clean up contaminants on the property and demolish the buildings.
Yesterday, U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas and officials from the federal Environmental Protection Agency stood with Rivera beside the teetering ruins of the former mill to announce the agency would do at least part of the job by covering the cost of removing the asbestos that is pervasive in the century-old maze of 27 buildings. Removing the cancer-causing toxin would be the first step needed to demolish the buildings and rebuild on the South Canal Street site that is a gateway to Lawrence.
“It’s not marketable right now,” Rivera said after the press conference, which also was attended by representatives of state Attorney General Martha Coakley and state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner David Cash. “Once we clean it up — and I hope to do that in my lifetime — this will be one of the virgin industrial spaces left in the city. So we hope to bring this back on line. The idea is that this is one step of many.”
Rivera also said the city might condemn the three-acre property on the Merrimack River when the cleanup is done, which would help settle at least some of Padellaro’s $5.4 million debt to the city.