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DEM: Coventry dam owners must comply with new law

WPRI 12 News
WPRI 12 News
 2022-08-10

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COVENTRY, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is demanding the owners of the dam at Johnson’s Pond raise the water level.

In a compliance order issued Wednesday, the DEM cited Soscia Holdings, LLC, for violating recently-enacted legislation that mandates the dam be operated “in a manner that is consistent with historic use as determined by the director.”

MORE: McKee signs bill to protect Johnson’s Pond

The compliance order also cites the Soscia’s for violating Rhode Island’s Water Quality Regulations, which requires “all waters be free … from anthropogenic activities … that adversely affect the physical, chemical or biological integrity of the habitat.”

The pond’s water levels have been a point of contention ever since Soscia Holdings purchased its dam and water flow rights two years ago.

Residents who live on the pond have repeatedly expressed concerns over the water levels, claiming that Soscia Holdings drained it to the point where the rocks and vegetation on the bottom were exposed. Homeowners also reported seeing dying fish and turtles, as well as the presence of toxic blue-green algae.

The order is in effect for at least 45 days. The DEM said they will be working with the Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha’s office to ensure compliance.

“Johnson’s Pond is an important community and state resource, and it is imperative that its water is held at reasonable levels in accordance with state law,” Neronha said in a statement. “The unchecked outflow of water from the pond by Soscia Holdings is not only a detriment to the pond and those who enjoy it, but not in compliance with a recently passed state law intended to protect water levels of dams and reservoirs.”

The compliance order comes as the dam owners take the DEM to federal court over the new state law. Neronha is representing the DEM in that case.

RELATED: Johnson’s Pond owners sue DEM over new law

In a statement, Coventry Town Manager Benjamin Marchant said the town will be working with the state to “facilitate a coordinated effort with the goal of closing the dam’s flow gates and prevent the pond from being drained any further.”

The hearings will be presided over by a New Hampshire judge after all three U.S. District Court judges in Rhode Island recused themselves. The first hearing is scheduled for Aug. 18.

Patrick Dougherty, the attorney for Soscia Holdings, declined to comment on the specifics of the case.

“It is not my client’s intention to litigate its case in the media,” Dougherty explained. “Soscia Holdings, LLC will respond to and address the latest actions of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management in the appropriate forum, to wit, the United States District Court.”

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