By DAN TOMASELLO
LAWRENCE — Essex Superior Court Judge Robert Cornetta sentenced Perley Burrill property owner Joseph Pedoto to 30 days in jail on Thursday, Jan. 8 in Essex Superior Court in Lawrence but the sentence comes with a catch.
According to Town Counsel Tom Mullen, Judge Cornetta sentenced Pedoto to 30 days in jail for failing to comply with a court order issued by Essex Superior Court Judge Paul D. Wilson last August to remove five underground storage tanks at the 906-914 Salem St. property. However, Mullen said Judge Cornetta decided to suspend Pedoto’s sentence until Feb. 12 because the residential building located on the property needs to be razed in order for the five underground storage tanks to be removed from the property.
“There is not enough room at the site to take out the tanks without removing the building first,” said Mullen. “If Pedoto removes the building, has permits in hand and if a contractor has signed a contract with a firm schedule, he won’t have to report to jail. If Pedoto does not, I will be going to court to seek his immediate incarceration.”
Mullen requested Judge Cornetta to give Pedoto two weeks to raze the building. However, in order for the building to be razed, an asbestos survey has to be completed and an asbestos abatement plan has to be submitted to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. Pedoto’s attorney, Joseph Brodigan, submitted a letter from an engineer the Perley Burrill property owner hired that estimated it would take six weeks to get the asbestos survey completed and the asbestos abatement plan submitted to DEP.
“Judge Cornetta compromised between the two positions and gave Pedoto a month to get to the point where he can remove the tanks,” said Mullen.
During the hearing, Mullen said he reminded Judge Cornetta that it was “almost exactly a year (from Jan. 8) that he imposed a permanent injunction requiring Pedoto to remove the tanks.” Mullen said Judge Cornetta noted in his ruling that Pedoto has “failed to obey the orders of three different judges.”
The judgment issued against Pedoto last August stipulated that he needed to apply for a permit from Fire Chief Mark Tetreault to remove the five underground tanks within 30 days after the judgment was issued. After this permit was issued, Pedoto would have another 60 days to remove the tanks.
Mullen sought a permanent injunction against Pedoto over local officials’ concerns about the five underground storage tanks. The single-walled tanks have not been in use since December 2011 and the monitoring system designed to determine any leakage only works if the power is on. Mullen believes the power is currently off and local officials are concerned the tanks are leaking into the ground and groundwater.
After Pedoto missed the Sept. 14 deadline to pull the permit from the fire department, Mullen filed another complaint against Pedoto for failing to comply with the court order. During an early October court hearing on the matter, Mullen learned Pedoto had filed the five applications with the fire department. The judge issued a finding that Pedoto was in contempt for failing to comply with the court-ordered deadline to pull the permit but decided to give Pedoto more time to remove the storage tanks.
Pedoto failed to comply with the court order by the Dec. 8 deadline. While a hearing was scheduled to take place on Dec. 18, a potential agreement between the town and Pedoto over removing the five tanks broke down. Mullen told the Villager on Jan. 2 he was going to recommend Pedoto be sent to jail for failing to comply with the court order.