hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

March 27, 2014

This Week in Haverhill

The Haverhill Gazette

---- — City seeks pot dispensary location

HAVERHILL — The city will re-start its search for the right location for a medical marijuana dispensary.

The City Council’s Administration and Finance Committee, which has taken the lead role in crafting zoning to control where a dispensary will be allowed, met on the issue for the first time last week.

The members agreed to hold regular meetings beginning April 17 and to invite the mayor’s Medical Marijuana Zoning Committee. That committee finished its work a few months ago by recommending an industrial area on Hale Street near Lafayette Square as the dispensary zone.

On Jan. 31, a nonprofit organization called Healthy Pharms Inc. was awarded one of 20 provisional state licenses to grow, process and sell medical marijuana out of an old furniture building at 114 Hale St. That proposal, which is contingent on the area being zoned for a dispensary, has hit several snags, however.

Concerns arose about dubious tactics and alleged misstatements made by the company in its application to the state for the Hale Street dispensary. City Council voted last month to ask the Attorney General’s Office to investigate the company’s Haverhill proposal and the state Public Health Department to reconsider its approval of the provisional license. Those state reviews are pending.

Since then, Mayor James Fiorentini said his committee was having second thoughts about siting a dispensary on Hale Street. Two of the zoning committee members — police Chief Alan DeNaro and Dr. Carl Rosenbloom, chairman of the city’s Board of Health — have said they no longer support Hale Street after learning the Healthy Pharms proposal would increase traffic on Hale Street by up to 300 vehicles per day. Hale Street is a part of the inner city, north of downtown and near homes.

“Hale Street never seemed right, with cars coming off Winter Street,” Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien said. “Traffic is already a mess there.”

Haverhill has a temporary ban on the dispensaries until Nov. 18, while the city decides the best place for one.

Regardless of the status of the Healthy Pharms proposal, the city must create a zone for a dispensary or risk the likelihood the state would allow a company with a license to open one anywhere it wants.

The dispensaries will eventually be set up because two years ago the state’s voters approved the use of medical marijuana by patients who receive a prescription from their doctor.

— Shawn Regan

Mayor won’t commit to opening entire park

Mayor James Fiorentini said he is considering a request from City Council and neighbors of Merrimack River Park on Route 110 to open the full stretch of the picturesque property this summer.

However, Fiorentini said he is undecided and has concerns about the cost and the possible return of crime to the park.

“I am quite proud of my record of improving parks and playgrounds and opening this park for the first time in 20 years,” Fiorentini said. “I understand the request and it is a reasonable one. I also understand the council’s request, made the very same evening (March 18) to put more money into police and add more police officers. ...In the end the budget has to balance and the numbers have to add up. I cannot spend what I do not have.

“I will certainly take this request under consideration,” he said. “I would like absolutely nothing better than to be able to say that I opened more of this park, but until I look at everything, I just cannot commit to this.”

The park, formerly know as Hannah Duston Rest Area, is sandwiched between Route 110 and the Merrimack River near the Methuen line. It was closed around 1998 because it became a place for criminal activity, including partying, drug use and sexual liaisons.

The mayor reopened half the park last summer and agreed to keep it open this year from April 1 to Oct. 1 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Last year’s opening was a big success, with neighbors keeping the park clean and planting flowers, watching for trouble-makers, and opening the gate in the morning and closing it at night.

Fiorentini said he is waiting for a recommendation from police Chief Alan DeNaro and Public Works Director Michael Stankovich before deciding on the request to open the whole park. The mayor said there would be additional costs for the city to open the entire property, including hiring a company to mow a large section of grass and installing video cameras to monitor the area.

The reopening last summer occurred after the city spent several weeks trimming and cutting back trees and dense brush along the river. The work opened views of the waterway and made it easier for police to spot anyone in the park after hours.

Since then, a group of volunteers including residents Dick LeBlond, Elaine Barker, Stephen Breen, Judi Poirier, Jim Ferguson and others have been maintaining the park, including opening and closing the gate in the morning and evening. They also have been keeping an eye out for trespassers and potential trouble-makers.

The western end of the park, which includes a gully where people used to hide while doing illegal activities, has remained off limits however. It is blocked by barriers.

But now, LeBlond and the others want the city to open that section, which is closest to the Methuen line. They said it would offer a much-needed parking area, as well as better access to the river for activities such as fishing, kayaking and canoeing.

“When we open in six weeks, people are going to come and find no place to park and they won’t come back,” said LeBlond, a lifelong Haverhill resident. “The park is a gem and a symbol of the city’s resurrection. We should open the whole thing.

“I know the mayor is worried about crime returning, but that won’t happen,’’ he said. “I have several groups taking care of it and we plan to continue taking care of it.”

— Shawn Regan

Top cops, chief get pay raise

Twenty senior officers and the police chief are getting 10.25 percent pay raises in a new contract.

In exchange for the raises, the police superior officers agreed to let the city test them for illegal drugs — a provision that Mayor James Fiorentini said he will push for in future contract talks with Haverhill’s patrolmen and firefighters.

The superior officers are the first public safety group to agree to let the city test their blood for illegal drugs, including marijuana and steroids.

The top cops also agreed to let the city install GPS tracking devices in their vehicles, something the department’s patrolmen recently agreed to.

City Council approved the superior officers’ contract swiftly and unanimously March 18 without debate or comment.

The superior officers’ new contract covers four years from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2016. The pact includes pay raises of 5.5 percent over that span.

It also includes another 4.75 percent in retroactive pay increases to make up for larger pay hikes given recently to police patrolmen and firefighters. The city gave the larger pay increases to resolve contract disputes with unions representing those workers.

City officials said the city likely would have had to at least match monetary awards given to the patrolmen and firefighters had negotiations with the superior officers gone to arbitration, which were scheduled earlier this month but cancelled as a result of the contract agreement.

According to the drug-testing provision, the city has the right to test new officers shortly after they are hired and any officer the city has “reasonable suspicion” to believe reported to work under the influence of an illegal drug or used an illegal drug in the recent past.

The city may also test any officer involved in a job-related accident that includes an unsafe practice or violation of a safety rule that resulted in serious injury or property damage, the contract says.

Three unidentified police sergeants are also to receive $8,500 per year in special education incentive pay in the new contract.

— Shawn Regan

Experts: Trees needed to be cut

The city’s forestry experts told the City Council March 18 there was no choice but to cut down most hemlock trees in a 100-acre area of Winnekenni Park east of Kenoza Lake.

“In 2 to 15 years the woolly adelgids would have decimated the hemlock stand anyway,” Haverhill Conservation Agent Rob Moore told councilors, referring to the tree-killing insect that feeds on hemlocks, causing needles to drop, branches to rot and trees to die.

Several resident attended that meeting to speak against the tree-cutting project. They said they were dismayed at the extent of the work and questioned whether the cutting went too far.

“It looks real bad up there,” said Andy Gonios, a former logger who spent 20 years cutting trees in New Hampshire. “They took down too many hardwood trees. It’s going to take a long time to grow back.”

Another Haverhill resident who frequents the park, Brian Cuscio, said he visited the forest yesterday and was disheartened by what he saw.

“I know the trees are infected,” Cuscio said. “But it seems they cut too many. It looks awful. The biking and hiking trails are ruined. It’s a real mess up there.”

Moore said the Winnekenni trees were cut and removed by Hopkinton Forestry & Land Clearing Inc., the same company that Haverhill hired to remove trees from the Clement Farm conservation area last year.

Moore said no trees were cut down that weren’t targeted for removal. The Winnekenni job is 75 percent done, but finished for the season, Moore said. The rest of the cutting, he said, will take place next winter.

The company removed the trees at no cost to the city and, in addition, paid the city $11,000 for the timber, Moore said. He said the money will go into site stabilization measures and to cover the cost of having the city’s consultant, Gary Gouldrup, closely watch the operation.

“The problem is it’s hard to see the hemlock tree infestation with the untrained eye,” said Councilor Thomas Sullivan, a member of the city’s forest management committee and a longtime member of the Winnekenni Foundation. “Half the trees were dead and the others were dying.”

Sullivan said the city acted too late to try to get rid of the woolly adelgids by introducing another type of bug that feeds on them and that the city can’t treat the trees with chemicals because the area is too close to Kenoza Lake, which is a city water supply.

Brent Baeslack, a local environmental activist, longtime member of the city’s Conservation Commission and self-professed tree lover, echoed that sentiment.

“Things at Winnekenni are going to turn out all right,” Baeslack said. “Aesthetics are fine. But the health of the forest and its future is what matters most.”

Councilor Michael McGonalge said everyone wants what is best for the park, but that councilors have to rely on the advice of the city’s experts.

“If I go to the doctor or nurse and they give me a plan to get better, I have to follow it,” he said. “Shame on us for letting it get this far, but we have to rely on the professionals to fix it.”

— Shawn Regan

Police arrest last man wanted in gun assault

Police said they have rounded up a group of young men who tried unsuccessfully to shoot another man in the Mount Washington neighborhood — an area targeted by officers because of its street crime.

March 19, officers made the last of four arrests of men involved in the incident, said Lt. Robert Pistone, spokesman for the Police Department.

Devaughn Johnson, 19, of 20 Grove St., Haverhill, was on the run until he was arrested at 5:02 p.m. March 19, Pistone said. Haverhill officers assigned to the department’s Street Crimes Unit and U.S. Marshals tracked down Johnson at 200 Franklin St., where he surrendered with the home surrounded, Pistone said.

Johnson is one of three men charged with surrounding the victim on High Street, after luring him out of a building in that area, police said.

Police said they have a video that shows Kadeem Pimental, 19, of 88 Fountain St., Haverhill, trying to fire a gun three times at the victim while Johnson and the other men surrounded the victim.

No other information was available from police about how they got the video. Police said the video and their investigation shows Pimental did try to shoot the victim, but the gun malfunctioned and no bullets were discharged.

Pistone said the men who were arrested and the victim all know each other. It appears the assault was “retaliation’’ for a past incident, Pistone said, but he could release no other details.

The gun incident happened March 7, police said. Officers who arrived at the scene saw several men who ran away, police said. Officer Brian Bailey of the Street Crimes Unit chased one of the men and caught him. He was carrying a gun, police said. He was identified by police as Marion Wilder, 23 of 76 1/2 Friend St., Amesbury.

Wilder was charged that night with carrying a firearm without a license, as well as outstanding warrants from Newburyport District Court.

After Wilder’s arrest, Haverhill police continued the investigation, Pistone said. It revealed that a group of four to six men lured another man out of a building on High Street and a gun was pointed at him by Pimental, Pistone said.

Police also used the video of the attempted shooting to identify Wilder, Johnson and Errol Ellis, 20, of 25 10th Ave., Apt. 3, Haverhill, as being involved, Pistone said. In addition to the initial gun crimes that Wilder was charged with, police were granted arrest warrants for all four men on the charges of armed assault with intent to murder and assault with a dangerous weapon, Pistone said. He said they were also charged with affray — being involved in violent criminal activity as a group.

Ellis surrendered to police last March 14 and was arrested on the warrant charges. Also on March 14, Haverhill detectives and the Street Crime Unit, with help from U.S. Marshals, used an arrest warrant to take Pimental into custody at his at 88 Fountain St. home, police said.

“This investigation and manhunt for these individuals is the direct product of the plans that have been put into place with the Municipal Staffing Grant (state grant money for a focus on Mount Washington) with the focus on identifying violent criminals in our city, investigating them, charging them, and relentlessly pursuing them until they are ultimately removed from the streets of our city,’’ Pistone said in an email.

“The Haverhill Police will continue to use the resources afforded through the Staffing Grant and its many law enforcement partners to take violent criminals off our streets,’’ Pistone’s email said. “Just as was done in this case we will not stop until we bring violent offenders to justice.’’

— Bill Cantwell