COVENTRY, R.I. (WPRI) — The ongoing dispute between the owners of a Coventry pond and the residents who live around it has made its way to the R.I. State House.
Johnson’s Pond has been a point of contention for residents since it was purchased by Soscia Holdings, LLC last year.
Residents claim the owners are lowering the water to dangerous levels, adding that it’s gotten to the point where the rocks and vegetation at the bottom are exposed.
Roy Vincent, who lives on Johnson’s Pond, told 12 News it is unusual to see the water levels this low, especially at this time of year.
“In the summer, this is about eight feet deep,” he said. “This is a systematic form of what we consider environmental terrorism for monetary gain.”
Vincent said the low water levels are impacting the wildlife that live in and around the pond.
But Patrick Dougherty, the attorney representing the pond’s owners, argues that the water levels have been lowered like this before. He explained that the owners are doing so to flush the pond and devegetate growth.
“The real environmental terrorists are the people polluting that pond with the oil and gas from leaky boats,” Dougherty added.
In an effort to intervene, Sen. Lou Raptakis introduced a bill last week that would give the town control of the water levels.
Raptakis said Soscia Holdings, LLC is “taking drastic actions to manipulate water levels as a means of punishing residents who dare to complain about the company’s actions.”
“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,” Raptakis said. “There’s not a wetlands area this company wouldn’t trash if it meant putting money in their pockets.”
But Dougherty said that’s not what’s happening here.
“If the town and the legislature think they are going to come in and take control of my client’s property, they are wrong,” he said.
Jon Pascua of the Johnson’s Pond Civic Association is hoping that, if the control of the water levels isn’t stripped from the owners, there will at least be more town or state oversight, especially since the water that’s being drained from the pond is spilling into the Pawtuxet River.
“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,” Raptakis said.
Soscia Holdings, LLC purchased the water flow rights of Johnson’s Pond and the dam in 2020 for $1.7 million. Since then, the owners and town have been in and out of court disputing the water levels and maintenance of the pond’s dam.
In two weeks, the lease states the owners of the pond must gradually begin raising the water level to 12 inches below spillway. Residents are skeptical of whether this will happen by April though, based on the pond’s current water level.