, Gloucester, MA

June 26, 2013

Editorial: Is law firm representing town's interest on Tool Co.?

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — It’s encouraging to hear once again that the latest owner of the derelict Cape Ann Tool Company site is committed to going forward with his plans for redevelopment of the long-dormant property.

And in that vein, it’s also a relief to learn that Michael Rauseo and his Cape Ann Tool LLC do not need formal approvals from the Army Corps of Engineers — never one of our more effective or efficient federal permitting agencies — to carry out work on the property’s seawall.

But it’s troubling, at best, to see the exchanges between Rauseo’s attorney and the town’s Boston-based law firm Kopelman and Paige regarding Rauseo’s rightful push to clear moorings from the site to gain access to the property to carry out the sewall work. For while it’s understandable that harbormasters Rosemary Lesch and Scott Story would question the status of the moorings, there’s no indication that the selectmen, other town officials or residents see any need to delay Rauseo’s company’s work on the site.

In that vein, we can only wonder whether the town’s law firm is in fact working on behalf of Rockport’s best interest, or merely doing the bidding of the harbormasters, who — while admittedly town officials – should hardly have the clout to hold up what looms as Rockport’s most significant commercial development project in years.

By most counts, Rauseo is moving forward with the project — and that’s certainly good news to Pigeon Cove neighbors who, thanks to some previous legal tangles and town officials reluctance to force the hand of previous Tool Company site owner Christopher Kaneb, have long endured living alongside what has arguably been Cape Ann’s worst eyesore and — despite the findings of Rockport Building Inspector Paul Orlando — a legitimate health and safety hazard.

But work on the seawall remains on hold because seven town moorings — that’s right, on Rauseo’s private property — remain attached to the wall, complete with boats.

According to regulations of the state Department of Environmental Protection, no permit can authorize moorings on private tidelands if the applicant objects. And Rauseo’s attorney, Jamy Madeja of Boston-based Buchanan and Associates, has stated numerous times that Rauseo, as property owner, objects to the moorings, according to emails obtained by the Times.

But rather than enforce the regulations, good ol’ Kopelman and Paige — which handles legal services for more than 100 Massachusetts cities and towns, and has raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars while further tangling Essex’s Conomo Point real estate quagmire — has stood by the status quo.

“Under these circumstances, I reached the opinion that the town should not issue any directives to current mooring permit holders regarding relocation of their moorings,” KP’s John Goldrosen wrote in an email to Madeja last week, requesting an opinion from the DEP. The effect of that, of course, is to simply keep Rauseo from carrying out work he should be able to do. And not surprisingly, Goldrosen declined to return calls to the Times seeking an explanation of his stance.

Madeja, however, wrote him an understandable response of her own.

“It is not at all reasonable to cause delay in the guise of asking another agency’s opinion when the law is express,” Madeja wrote in an email to Kopelman and Paige last week. “... You are escalating, not de-escalating, relations regarding necessary and long overdue progressive work.”

She’s right. And given that a municipal counsel’s primary duty should be to uphold the law, not tweak it at the whim of one or two town officials, Rockport’s selectmen should take this bit of legal advice and toss it where it belongs — right in the trash.

Look, Rauseo has acquired the property. He has nearly all of the necessary green lights to go forward with his work on the property’s seawall. And redevelopment of this site is clearly in the best interest of the town and its residents.

Kopelman and Paige may not be working in Rockport’s best interest, but the town’s selectmen must. And in that vein, they should order removal of the moorings to let this important project advance.