COVENTRY, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island General Assembly passed a bill Tuesday that would protect Johnson’s Pond in Coventry.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Lou Raptakis, would require dam owners across the state to get clearance from the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) to raise or lower the water levels. It would also impose a $60,000 per day fine on dam owners who don’t obtain a permit from the DEM prior to altering the water levels.
The legislation was sparked by an ongoing dispute between the new owners, Soscia Holdings LLC, and residents in the area who didn’t approve of how the owners were managing the water levels and maintenance of the pond’s dam.
Soscia Holdings argued the bill strips away their rights as owners but Jon Pascua of the Johnston’s Pond Civic Association disagrees.
“It doesn’t actually take away their rights at all. It just says much like private property when you are putting an addition on your home, you need permission to make sure you are doing it right and safely,” Pascua explained.
Residents have repeatedly expressed concern over the water levels on the pond, claiming that it had been drained 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, according to Raptakis.
The bill now heads to Gov. Dan McKee’s desk. If approved, the bill would also apply to ponds across the state in similar circumstances.