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8/27/2021 Raptakis introducing additional legislation to help Coventry’s Johnson’s Pond residents
Soscia Holdings fails to act in good faith and continues to manipulate current situation
STATE HOUSE – Sen. Leonidas P. Raptakis (D-Dist. 33, Coventry, East Greenwich, West Greenwich) is vowing to pursue additional legislation to stop the owners of Johnson’s Pond from randomly lowering the water levels.

The pond’s owner, Soscia Holdings LLC, drained the pond over the weekend to the point where docks are now over mud and homeowners say fish and turtles are dying. A lawyer for the owner told a news outlet this week that the draining – which left the pond 27 inches below the spillway on its dam – was in response to a DEM letter instructing dam owners to take action ahead of Hurricane Henri.

But after the story aired, residents say, the pond was drained another foot in retaliation for their complaints, and in violation of the Town of Coventry’s lease on the dam.

“Soscia Holdings fails to act in good faith and continues to manipulate the current situation, affecting the residents of Johnson’s Pond and the entire community,” said Senator Raptakis. “Soscia seems to be deliberately ruining things for local residents as a hardball negotiating tactic to get a new lease from the town. This brinksmanship has to stop.”

Senator Raptakis filed legislation  (2021-S 0986) this session and will reintroduce it with additional language in the next session to protect Johnson’s Pond by making the Mill Dam Act subject to the provisions of the Freshwater Wetlands Act as it relates to Johnson’s Pond, and to allow the Department of Environmental Management to control the water level if necessary. The bill would also increase the fines for failing to restore the wetland at Johnson’s Pond to $60,000 per day.

“I will be also working with my colleagues in government, the R.I. Department of Environmental Management and the Johnsons Pond Association to address these important issue in the legislation,” said Senator Raptakis.

The senator is also considering adding a provision to the bill that would prohibit the lowering of the water level in the pond below historic levels between June 15 and September 15 of each year.

“This is nothing but spite and retaliation,” said Senator Raptakis. “The hurricane was just an excuse to violate the lease, the court order and the long-standing right of abutters to enjoy Johnson’s Pond – and the fact that they’re still lowering the water days later is proof. This goes beyond mere greed; they’re harming the environment and the ecosystem, too. I’ll be looking at ways to strengthen my bill and also working with DEM to ensure that the state takes every step possible to put an end to this dangerous and damaging abuse of the pond.”

The Department of Environmental Management is reportedly looking into whether the lowering of the water was an appropriate response to its directive ahead of the hurricane.

The owners also lowered the pond in July, claiming the town had not been maintaining the dam and that lowering the water was necessary due to an impending storm. A Superior Court judge allowed the water level to be lowered for the storm, but later ordered the owners to allow it to fill back up to the dam’s spillway.

Senator Raptakis likened the situation with Pascoag Reservoir in 1998, when owner Vincent Mesollela drained the lake in an unsuccessful attempt to force the state to buy it from him. The saga made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against Mesolella and upheld a lower court’s decision that the state did not owe him damages for public use of the lake that the owners had tolerated for decades.

The situation is similar at Johnson’s Pond, he said.

“People have always used the pond for fishing, boating and recreation, and our town already pays a lease for it. Now Soscia Holdings is taking a page out of the Mesolella playbook and lowering the water in the pond to squeeze the neighbors into giving them more money. It’s an unacceptable abuse and, just as it didn’t succeed in Pascoag 20 years ago, it won’t work in Coventry either,” said Senator Raptakis.

For more information, contact:
Legislative Press Bureau,
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-2457