LAWRENCE — The owner of the former Merrimac Paper mill has until Monday to revise his plan for demolishing the fire-ravaged ruins on the site after state environmental officials rejected his initial plan as “substantially inadequate.”
Superior Court Judge Bonnie MacLeod ordered mill owner David Padellaro to redo the demolition plan he submitted under an earlier court order after the Department of Environmental Protection filed a string of objections to it.
Among them, the agency said, Padellaro’s proposal to dispose of the asbestos that is pervasive in the buildings by burying it on the riverfront property would violate state law.
The agency also objected that the demolition plan “failed to include basic information” about the effort to locate the asbestos and failed to identify the demolition and air quality contractors he has hired.
The DEP also noted that the consultant Padellaro hired to develop the plan for removing asbestos has walked off the job because Padellaro stopped paying him.
Padellaro’s lawyer, James Bowers, said he also has “not been fully retained” by Padellaro and refused to talk with the assistant attorney general representing the DEP, the assistant AG said in a letter to Judge MacLeod asking her to order Padellaro to rewrite the demolition plan.
Earlier cleanups the DEP ordered Padellaro to undertake at the mill complex after other fires in 2010 also went nowhere when Padellaro stopped paying those contractors or paid them with checks that bounced. Padellaro, a former city police officer who was fired for misconduct in 1998, was convicted of larceny in July after bouncing three checks to a contractor he hired to remove oil from tanks at the mill.
“It appears that the parties have reached a deadlock” Assistant Attorney General Tracy Triplett said in her letter to Judge MacLeod seeking the order for the new plan. “Of significant concern to the Commonwealth . . . is that the fire-damaged buildings are not safe and pose a risk of collapse, which would further release asbestos at the property.”
Yesterday, the owner of a car dealership directly across South Canal Street from the original mill building – built about 1884 and destroyed in a spectacular fire on Jan. 13 – said he has seen beams and other heavy debris collapse inside the mill since he opened the dealership on March 19.
“One day we heard things crash,” said Jose Ramirez, owner of Merrimack Motors, describing conditions at the teetering red-brick remains of the historic building. “I saw part of the roof on the left cave in.”
Padellaro yesterday directed a reporter off a property adjoining the former mill and declined to comment on issues involving the property.
Earlier in the day, Padellaro was in Lawrence Housing Court defending himself against criminal charges brought by the city for allegedly ignoring its order to demolish parts of the mill. That case – which is separate from the civil charges Attorney General Martha Coakley filed against him for ignoring a similar order by the DEP – was continued yesterday when city inspectors said they are working with Padellaro to get the job done.
Padellaro also was in a district courtroom yesterday, where he faced an unrelated charge that he left the scene of a car accident in Lawrence earlier this year.
Padellaro has pleaded not guilty to that charge. A conviction could cause a judge to revoke the probation he is serving following his conviction for bouncing the checks to the mill contractor and order him jailed. Jailing Padellaro would significantly complicate the already troubled demolition and cleanup at the mill.
The job of safely removing asbestos from the 27 buildings at the South Canal Street property became much more complicated and expensive following the inferno that swept through a cluster of buildings on the west end of the site on Jan. 13, which mixed the toxins with the charred wood, bricks, glass, steel and other debris that collapsed as the buildings burned.
State arson investigators sifted through the rubble for three days immediately following the fire in a search for a cause. They have not released findings.
The cost of the demolition and cleanup could reach $500,000, according to City Building Inspector Peter Blanchette. He said he’s worried the city will be stuck with the bill, a possibility raised by another lawyer representing Padellaro.
“All this stuff is awfully expensive,” Sal Tabit, who is representing Padellaro against the criminal charges in Housing Court, said in an earlier interview. “What happens if he can’t do anything because he can’t afford it? You can’t get blood from a stone. Are you going to throw him in jail? (Then) the property is just going to sit there. The work won’t get done. He’s making every effort and turning over every stone to get the resources to do that.”
As substantial as the bill for the demolition could be, Padellaro faces bigger financial headaches at the former mill.
The unpaid liens on the property for back taxes, fees and interest date to 2002, which was eight years before Padellaro bought the former mill for $1 in a deal city officials said was intended as a tax dodge for the Andover developer who sold it to him. The unpaid bills now total $5.4 million, making Padellaro Lawrence’s biggest tax deadbeat by far.
He’s also required to maintain an around-the-clock fire-watch at the mill. A man dressed in camouflage stood watch over the property yesterday afternoon from a trailer parked beside the former mill, accompanied by an older, friendly spaniel that Padellaro jokingly referred to as a guard dog.