Dealing with Parasites
(The following editorial appears in this week’s issue of the Montague Reporter.)
Jerry Jones is a predator, and a parasite.
By Wesley Blixt & David Detmold
Towns like Montague have long given him cover and nourished him. In Turners Falls, he found it all-too-easy to:
• snap up a valuable piece of industrial real estate;
• flout our laws and regulations;
• stiff our tax collector;
• exploit our most vulnerable people for his own profit;
• endanger his neighbors and emergency personnel;
• create conditions that nearly caused a much wider catastrophe;
• and now leave us up the canal without a paddle.
And we have allowed him to do it. All of us.
While some are turning over the circumstantial details of the fire, trying to piece together a plausible theory to explain the cause of the blaze that consumed a 19,000-square-foot Strathmore Mill building on May 26th, others are asking perfectly legitimate questions about how town officials could have allowed this man to live in the Strathmore Mill - a man with a known track record of serious fire code violations, and fires, at former mills in nearby cities and towns in Western Massachusetts.
Montague fire code and building code enforcement officials, and members of the selectboard say they have known of Jones’ track record for many years.
These are just some of our questions:
• How could they have let Jones live in the Strathmore, and pretend he was fulfilling the role of ‘night watchman,’ and continue living there despite the fact they knew full well he was employing unlicensed temporary workers to strip and scavenge copper conduit and other materials from the mill, and despite the fact that some of that wiring was live, that the salvage operations had already resulted in fires and horrifying personal injuries to his help?
• How could they have let him remain in residence at the mill when they knew full well he was repeatedly and purposefully violating their court-negotiated agreements to limit the storage of combustible materials to permitted areas, where fire suppression systems were in working order and capable of doing their job?
• How could Jones have been allowed to jeopardize not only the safety of the 137-year-old mill complex - with all its potential for productive reuse for bettering our town’s economy - but also the security of neighboring industries that provide employment and tax payments for our community?
• In hindsight, it is easy to that say mistakes were made. Mistakes were made by people we have elected and appointed to protect Montague from this type of predator who thinks Montague is an easy mark.
Jerry Jones does not have a good record with abandoned mills. He had a reckless, lawless, fire-prone reputation that preceded him when he arrived in Turners Falls five years ago. Since then, he has done nothing but aggravate that reputation with his callous disregard for the health, safety, and well-being of our community.
His ownership of a once powerful economic engine has produced nothing of value for the area. Rather, he has stripped it of every saleable commodity he could get his avaricious hands on, and has now so tied it up in legal red tape, any buyer who hopes to again put it to productive use will be hard pressed to do so. Whether or not he dropped the match, Jones’ actions set the stage for a catastrophe that many - including our professional firefighters - anticipated. Only their timely and heroic response prevented that catastrophe from turning into total devastation.
The fire that burned down Building #10 cost more than we will ever know. What we do know is that it is a cost that will be born by the 22 Franklin County fire departments that responded that morning, along with the fire departments from surrounding states and counties that backed them up, not to mention the neighboring paper mill and hydro generating facility.
It is a cost that will be born by this community for years to come. If the past is any indication, Jones will likely claim indigence and walk away from the calamity he created, and he will then set up shop in some other small town to repeat his depredations.
Montague must learn a lesson from this disaster. Look around. Vital pieces of property in key locations in town are now in the hands of unscrupulous ‘businesspeople’ - properties across the street from the post office in Turners Falls, blocking a town road that provides one of the two entrances to the densely populated residential neighborhood of the Patch, and sitting like a spider at the main intersection of the village of Millers Falls come to mind.
Town officials must proactively defend the wider interests of neighborhoods and seek to advance the common good, rather than the rights and privilege of the individual property owner, especially when their reputation, destructive actions, and predatory intentions are so plainly established. Town officials should take every means available within their regulatory arsenal to rein in the anti-social tendencies of these individuals.
Finally, we must all be more vigilant, and we must make people like Jerry Jones live within the law before another disaster occurs. And we must begin by calling them by their proper name: parasites.
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