COVENTRY, R.I. — Gov. Dan McKee ceremoniously signed legislation Friday designed to protect Johnson’s Pond and other dams across the state.
The legislation requires dam owners to get clearance from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) before raising or lowering water levels.
McKee said this legislation has been “a long time coming.”
“Johnson’s Pond is a vital asset and a tremendous resource for the community and for the hundreds of residents who live along the water, and they have been greatly impacted by water levels that have been either too high or too low,” McKee said.
The law took effect two weeks ago, and the DEM has already sent a cease-and-desist letter to Soscia Holdings, which purchased the Coventry pond’s dam and water flow rights back in 2020.
Johnson’s Pond is one of four bodies of water that fall under the new law’s jurisdiction. If dam owners raise or lower the water levels without receiving permission from the DEM, the law states they will be fined $1,000 per day.
Soscia Holdings now has five days to raise the water levels as directed by DEM.
The DEM tells 12 News that Soscia Holdings has not yet responded to their cease-and-desist letter. If the owners don’t comply, McKee said the state will take them to court.
“We are not going to stand by and let them lower the water levels as we go through the court process,” McKee said.
Following a ceremonial bill signing, McKee hopped onto a boat for a quick ride around the pond with members of the Johnson’s Pond Civic Association.
Marc Lemoi, president of the Johnson’s Pond Civic Association, thanked McKee and lawmakers for taking the steps necessary to protect what he described as “a way of life for Coventry residents.”
Residents who live on the pond 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.
Sen. Lou Raptakis, who sponsored the legislation, previously accused Soscia Holdings of “behaving like environmental terrorists.”
“There’s not a wetlands area this company wouldn’t trash if it meant putting money in their pockets,” Raptakis said. “This legislation will 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.”
The town and Soscia Holdings have been in and out of court over the past couple of years disputing the water levels and maintenance of the pond’s dam.
12 News reached out to the attorney representing Soscia Holdings several times but has not yet heard back, though he previously testified against the bill when it was before the General Assembly earlier this year.