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Lawrence mayor in hot water over rotting piers in Boston

Lawrence Mayor Martin Oliner in an undated photo.

Lawrence Mayor Martin Oliner in an undated photo. Credit: Herald Community Newspapers

BOSTON - Two sets of old piers sit in the water rotting in the middle of Boston's famed Charlestown Navy Yard, now an upscale residential neighborhood and home to one of the city's most popular historic attractions.

City and state regulators say the piers have reached a dangerous state of disrepair.

Their owners: two companies, each of whose sole manager is Martin Oliner, mayor of the Nassau County village of Lawrence.

The Massachusetts attorney general filed a request for an injunction Thursday asking that Oliner and the companies be ordered to take steps immediately to repair Pier 6 and Pier 8, collectively called Shipyard Quarters Marina.

The filing said the piers have become "dangerous" and pose "a serious, ongoing threat to vessels and users at the Marina, the public, and safe navigation in Boston Harbor."

City and state officials say Oliner has failed to respond to demands he improve the piers.

"The Shipyard Quarters Marina is in disrepair and clearly out of compliance," Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said in a statement to Newsday. "The owner has continued to demonstrate utter disregard for the safety of the residents of Charlestown."

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley also filed Thursday a lawsuit seeking more than $10 million in civil penalties from Oliner and the two companies for violating the state's Waterways Act.


'Slated for replacement'

The city's Conservation Commission voted in December to issue an enforcement order against one of the companies, which could carry a fine of as much as $25,000 per day if approved by Superior Court.

Oliner, elected mayor of Lawrence in 2010, said in an interview the properties are "slated for replacement," and that plans to replace the marina -- which he said will cost up to $5 million -- have been submitted to the city. Those plans were incomplete, Conservation Commission executive secretary Stephanie Kruel said.

"Yes, they are in disrepair, and they need to be replaced and they are being replaced," Oliner said. "We've allocated a lot of money to make it happen."

Oliner added he is not the sole owner of the piers, although the Massachusetts Secretary of State lists Oliner as the sole "manager" of both companies -- Shipyard Quarters Marina, LLC and LDA Pier 9, LLC.

Oliner said the marina, which still rents to several dozen boats, "has not been allowed to deteriorate. It has gotten old. People get old. It has gotten old and is being replaced."

But Boston city leaders and civic activists say Oliner isn't moving fast enough.

Coakley's request for an injunction cited "rusted-out and collapsing pilings, twisted and cutoff docks, and rotting structural support beams."

Concerns are elevated because pieces of the piers are also part of the popular Boston Harborwalk, said Conservation Commission member Vivien Li, also president of the Boston Harbor Association. City officials say they worry about lawsuits if someone gets hurt.

The Conservation Commission's potential $25,000 per day fine would total more than $5 million now. However, the commission could vote Wednesday to withdraw the enforcement order and "let the attorney general move forward," Li said.

Coakley's filing requests that Oliner and the two companies be ordered to hire within five days an engineer who would perform a safety inspection and prepare an "Immediate Repair Plan" within 21 days.

After the report is approved, they would have another 21 days to make repairs. A Superior Court hearing on the filing will take place Wednesday.

Coakley's office began its probe after the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection inspected the marina in June and July 2012, and found debris, corroded electrical systems, broken and nonexistent pilings, and other violations, state records show.

Revitalized area

The marina is a few blocks from the USS Constitution, the world's oldest commissioned naval vessel afloat. The ship draws thousands of tourists and school groups to the city and sits at the end of the historic Freedom Trail.

Oliner, 66, has been involved in Boston real estate for more than two decades. During that time, the Charlestown waterfront -- its naval installation closed in the 1970s -- has become home to some of the city's most prized real estate. Developers looking for new opportunities gravitated to the gritty neighborhood and began building upscale condos.

Oliner has played a role in that change, developing a pair of successful residential developments, Parris Landing and Flagship Wharf, in Charlestown. Condos in Flagship Wharf have sold for more than $1 million.

Oliner has worked as a private attorney for more than 40 years, mostly in tax law. He is also a member of the executive board of Touro College.

Michael Fragin, a Lawrence trustee, said he is worried about a poor reflection on the village. Attempts to reach the other three trustees were not successful.

"I think as a public official, it doesn't make the village look good," Fragin said. "It's not something that's going on in New York, it's something that's going on in Massachusetts, and it's a little bit troubling that it hasn't been resolved yet."

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