COVENTRY, R.I. (WPRI) — The recent purchase of Johnson’s Pond in Coventry caught some area residents off guard.
Johnson’s Pond water-flow rights and its dam were sold last year for $1.7 million, and residents say they are now worried for its future.
“If there are fees associated with use of the pond, it can relate to lower property values,” Marc Lemoi, president of the Johnson’s Pond Civic Association, told 12 News. “Residents are very concerned about that fact.”
It may be frozen right now, but for the hundreds of people who live around Johnson’s Pond, it’s the lifeline of their community.
In the summer, the water that makes up the 659-acre pond is filled with swimmers, jet skiers and boaters.
Every year in the winter, the pond’s water levels are lowered to allow for maintenance. But now Soscia Holdings LLC, the new owners of the pond, say the water level may need to remain low come springtime because of the dam.
Soscia Holdings is now taking the town of Coventry to court, claiming the municipality has not held up its end of the bargain by maintaining the dam.
The R.I. Department of Environmental Management’s latest dam safety report found the structure to be in fair condition, but in need of some repair.
Doug Soscia, the pond’s new owner, explained that the company is liable if the dam fails.
Soscia declined to go on camera, but told 12 News in a phone interview that the company isn’t holding the water hostage and is concerned about the dam.
Soscia said property owners should direct their frustration at the town.
“Everyone else wants to enjoy [the pond] while we take the risk and that’s not fair,” Soscia said. “We are not doing anything malicious.”
RIDEM, which inspects dams in the state, could step in and order the owner of a dam to make repairs to ensure safety, or in the case where a dam was in danger of failing. The agency said the structure is currently not in a bad enough condition to do so.
Soscia Holdings wants a new lease with the town, upping the annual fee from $50,000 per year to nearly $1.4 million annually.
But property owners are worried that massive increase would be passed on to them.
“This issue with Johnson’s Pond extends beyond the shoreline,” resident Jon Pascua said. “It can affect the pocketbooks of people that live in Coventry across the board.”
The dispute has gotten the attention of Smith Hill. State Sen. Lou Raptakis, D-Coventry, said the General Assembly plans to take action if both sides fail to come to terms.
“We have options out there that we are going to look at closely to bring some sort of resolution on behalf of our constituents,” Raptakis said.
12 News reached out to town officials for comment, but they refused to do so, citing the ongoing lawsuit.