This story has been updated to include a statement from the town’s solicitor.
COVENTRY, R.I. (WPRI) — The owner of Johnson’s Pond is urging the town to remove more than 100 residents’ docks from the water.
Soscia Holdings, LLC, sent a letter to the town late last month demanding the removal of all “illegal structures” built on the pond.
“Following the discovery of other unpermitted alterations, Soscia Holdings performed a limited investigation of several properties adjacent to Johnson’s Pond,” the letter reads.
The letter includes a list of 108 addresses where the residents reportedly built upon or altered the pond without the owner’s permission.
The owner claims the town is defaulting on its lease agreement by not addressing the violations.
One homeowner on that list is calling the move a stunt. Jason Hawes, who lives on Acres of Pine Road, says his dock has been on the water for about eight years.
“I definitely think Soscia and Soscia Holdings are trying to look at every little way to just be a problem,” Hawes said. “It’s tough also because we don’t really hear anything from the town because the town is keeping things private. But fingers crossed things will be able to be resolved.”
Patrick Dougherty, the attorney representing Soscia Holdings, claims the town has “completely disregarded its responsibilities in regard to the placement of the docks.”
“The town is obligated by the lease to establish rules, supervise and control access to the pond,” Dougherty said in a statement. “Seeing that the lease is ending in March 2024, my client wants to see that structures that were replaced on the pond during the town’s possession and control of it are removed by the town and not left for Soscia Holdings, LLC, to deal with at its expense.”
Dougherty expects more addresses to be added to the list, adding that those in the letter “…are just the first initial docks identified.”
Though many of the docks were installed prior to Soscia Holdings purchasing the pond, Dougherty said that “is not relevant.”
“Property owners adjacent to this particular pond have absolutely no rights in and to the water,” Dougherty explained. “Their concerns, issues and anger are misplaced. Residents should be upset with the town. They should recognize that the town of Coventry has not been performing its obligations under the lease.”
“If the town had performed its obligations, then the docks would have been properly permitted,” he continued, adding that the town “…is directly ignoring the lease and its very own ordinance and building codes by failing to require that docks and other structures on the pond be duly permitted.”
This comes after Soscia Holdings sued the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) over a new state law that requires dam owners to get a permit before raising or lowering water levels.
The law, signed by Gov. Dan McKee last summer, was first introduced after residents’ expressed concerns over the pond’s low water levels and how it was impacting wildlife.
The pond’s water levels have been a point of contention ever since Soscia Holdings purchased its dam and water flow rights three years ago.
Town Solicitor Stephen Angell described Dougherty’s statements regarding his client’s lease with the town as, “hyperbolic and fanciful at best.”
Angell said it appears Soscia Holdings has “…a different view of the lease, which is why the town wants a jury to hear the facts and evidence, and for the jury to decide the matter on its merits.”