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State of Rhode Island General Assembly
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Sen. Raptakis’ legislation to protect Johnson’s Pond passes committee
Senator says reckless actions by private owners have led to manipulating water level
STATE HOUSE – Sen. Leonidas P. Raptakis’ (D-Dist. 33, Coventry, East Greenwich, West Greenwich) legislation (
) that would grant the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) the authority to restore water levels in Johnson’s Pond was passed by the Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee today.
The legislation would require that any person operating or owning a dam with a storage capacity greater than 1,400 normal storage acre feet of water to obtain a permit from DEM to raise or lower the water level behind the dam.
According to Senator Raptakis, Johnson’s Pond is a major ecological and recreational resource, the hydrology of which has had major impacts on communities and property owners throughout the Kent County region. “Johnson’s Pond is a regulated wetland that exists in part on private property, just like most of the other wetlands that DEM regulates. In the past, DEM and the Coventry Emergency Management Agency have, through trained meteorologists, assisted in guiding the water levels of the pond at times of significant anticipated events. Johnson’s Pond is too important and impactful a resource to permit important decisions in time of emergency to be made by untrained laypeople,” he said.
He continued, “This is the due and proper function of government. The Johnson’s Pond Association, along with the town of Coventry, request the assistance of the Rhode Island General Assembly to pass legislation aimed at protecting an important state water asset and its vibrant ecosystem. Passing this bill would help to mitigate against purposeful flooding of the Pawtuxet River which impacts at minimum five communities and approximately 240,000 residents and preserve access to Johnson’s Pond for the 600 homeowners living on or in close proximity to the pond.”
“The environmental integrity and safety of Johnson’s Pond is not just a Coventry concern, but a regional priority. Rhode Island's wetland ecosystems are largely interconnected and artificial adjustments to one are likely to affect others and cause irreparable damage," said Hillary Lima, councilwoman for the 4th District in Coventry. “Passage of this legislation is a commitment to empowering DEM to ensure the safety and healthy longevity of bodies of water like Johnson's Pond - and connected ecosystems - across our state.”
“We are very thankful for the help from the state on this local issue,” said District 2 Coventry Councilwoman Jennifer Ludwig.
“We are thrilled that the bill passed committee. It is a major step forward to protect not only Johnson’s Pond in Coventry, but lakes and ponds across the state. I want to thank the committee and especially Senator Raptakis,” said Marc Lemoy, President Johnson’s Pond Civic Association
Last August, the pond’s owner, Soscia Holdings LLC, drained the pond to the point where docks were over little more than mud and homeowners reported dying fish and turtles. They then unleashed water during a tropical storm a month later, creating the potential for causing flooding down river. For the first time last year, residents of the pond reported the presence of toxic blue-green algae, which had never been present there before Soscia started dramatically altering water levels.
“Soscia Holdings is behaving like environmental terrorists, taking drastic actions to manipulate water levels as a means of punishing residents who dare to complain about the company’s actions,” said Senator Raptakis. “They’ve sought to limit residents’ access to the area by putting up gates, called the police to try to stop people from enjoying the pond, filed frivolous suits and even threatened to turn the pond into a solar panel farm. There’s not a wetlands area this company wouldn’t trash if it meant putting money in their pockets.”
Senator Raptakis has also introduced two other bills to protect Johnson’s Pond:
would create a DEM environmental study for the public benefit and would help the agency exercise its enforcement options to protect wetland in and around Johnson’s Pond.
would grant the Town of Coventry the right to regulate water levels and flow rate in Johnson Pond between April 1 and November 1. The bill was heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 1.
Raptakis said this was not only a matter of residential property rights but a major environmental concern that he believes DEM should properly investigate. He stated that it's a health issue now that the water level has dropped so much because the water level causes problems with well water.
Senator Raptakis also pointed out that Big River in West Greenwich, Mapleroot Pond and Reynolds Pond, both in Coventry, all have extremely low water levels now due to the effects of the situation at Johnson’s Pond.
Rep. Thomas E. Noret (D-Dist. 25, Coventry, West Warwick) has introduced the legislation (
) in the House and the bill is scheduled for consideration by the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee on June 2.
For more information, contact:
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
Lt. Governor's Office
Secretary of State
Link to Public Records Request