PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Tensions continue to increase regarding the water levels at a Coventry pond.
Residents testified at a Senate hearing Wednesday in favor of a bill that would give the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) authority over the water levels of Johnson’s Pond.
The pond’s water levels have been a source of controversy since the new owners bought the water flow rights and have kept the pond water at “dangerous levels,” according to residents.
The bill would allow DEM to control the water levels and would impose a $60,000 per day fine on those who divert “water flow out of Johnson’s Pond without the approval of the director of DEM.” A second bill looks to allocate funding for DEM to conduct an environmental study on the pond and surrounding wetlands.
Soscia Holdings LLC purchased the water flow rights and the dam of the pond in 2020. The owners currently have control of the water levels.
Patrick Dougherty, an attorney representing the owners, testified against the bill that would give DEM control of the pond’s levels, calling it unconstitutional.
“This act you are trying to pass here is now taking my clients’ private property control of its own private property and place it in DEM who have no experience in operation of this dam whatsoever,” Dougherty said.
Jennifer Ludwig, vice president of the Coventry Town Council, testified in favor of the bill. She argued that the pond’s water levels affect the entire area even if it is private property.
“It makes sense for the DEM to have a role in a dam’s operations that have substantial impact to the surrounding towns,” Ludwig said.
Residents of the area are concerned the low water levels are affecting the pond’s wildlife. The owners claim the low water levels are meant to flush the pond and devegetate growth and are allowed to fluctuate under a lease agreement.
Both bills, sponsored by Sen. Lou Raptakis, have been held for further study.