By Dave Rogers
---- — BOSTON — A deal could soon be reached between the owner of the former Powow River Grille in downtown Amesbury and the federal government more than a year after prosecutors sued the restaurant’s operator for failing to pay back a disaster loan obtained in 2006.
Federal prosecutors say Mark Friery, who currently co-owns Plum Island Grille in Newbury, owes $125,990, including $92,860 in principal and more than $30,000 in penalties and interest, for a Small Business Administration loan paid out months after the Mother’s Day flood of 2006 seriously damaged the now-closed Amesbury restaurant.
The 2006 storm dropped more than 12 inches of rain on the region, causing severe flooding. In downtown Amesbury, the waters of the Powow River surged into buildings lining its banks, including the Powow River Grille. The Main Street restaurant, the back of which abuts the river, was one of many businesses that applied for federal loans after the floods.
The two sides in the case met Wednesday for a scheduled conference hearing in Boston to discuss reaching a settlement that both sides can live with, according to Friery’s attorney, Thomas Mason of Burlington,
“We’ve been working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in an amiacble manner and I feel optimistic we’ll resolve the situation,” Mason said yesterday.
The impetus to reach a settlement comes as the deadline for the U.S Attorney’s Office to file a motion for summary judgment approaches on Jan. 11. If a deal isn’t reached before then, prosecutors would likely ask presiding Judge Denise Casper to render a decision to avoid missing the deadline.
But Mason said he was confident a settlement could be reached before the deadline.
“We have a dispute and we’re working together to have an acceptable agreement that works for both parties,” Mason said, adding he couldn’t comment on what the settlement might be.
Last year, Nelson P. Lovins, who was then the attorney for Powow Rover Grille, argued that it took the federal government several months to authorize the loan, making a bad situation worse and ultimately forcing the restaurant to close. The Powow River Grille received its money about five months after the damage occurred.
“That’s the problem,” Lovins said. “Had it been advanced on a more timely basis, the situation would have been different.”
The restaurant had been making payments on the loan until November 2009, when the restaurant went out of business, according to Lovins.
After the restaurant defaulted, the SBA referred the loan to the Treasury Department, and the debt was later sold to a private collection company.
In 2005, the Powow River Grille opened to considerable fanfare when Friery and co-owner Francis Broadbery took a chance on the fledgling downtown Amesbury, submitting the winning auction bid of just under $400,000 for the large space on Main Street. The site was formerly home to The Roost restaurant, which had been unable to succeed after a two-year run. The location now houses the popular Ale House.