News Releases By State
Massachusetts Cranberry Farmers Agree to Restore 26 Acres of Wetlands and Pay $75,000 Penalty
Release Date: 03/05/2012
Contact Information: Paula Ballentine, (617) 918-1027
(Boston, Mass. – Mar. 5, 2012) – Carver, Mass. cranberry farmers Charles Johnson, Francis “Van” Johnson and a family-owned partnership have agreed to restore 26 acres of wetlands and a stream, and to pay a $75,000 penalty to resolve claims against them for violation of the Clean Water Act at two sites at their farm, the Justice Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today. A settlement was recently filed in federal district court in Massachusetts.
The United States sued the Johnsons in 1999 for grading, filling and altering wetlands at the two sites between 1979 and 1999, without the required Clean Water Act permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers. The two sites where the illegal filling took place are in the headwaters of the Weweantic River, which flows from Carver to Buzzards Bay. The Weweantic River estuary is included on Massachusetts’ list of impaired waters.
Under the terms of the consent decree, the Johnsons will pay a civil penalty of $75,000 over thirteen months. In addition, the Johnsons will restore and perform compensatory mitigation at three existing cranberry bogs known as the Log Swamp bogs off Great Meadow Drive in Carver, returning 21 acres to forested and scrub wetlands, wet meadows and open waters. The restored Log Swamp site will be connected to a large wetlands system to the south, and will be preserved in perpetuity. The Johnsons also agreed to restore 5 acres of wetlands at a site off Cross Street in Carver, and 1,200 linear feet of Beaver Dam Brook. The Johnsons had widened and deepened Beaver Dam Brook as part of the unpermitted construction of cranberry bogs at the Cross Street site. The Johnsons will also provide an $800,000 performance guarantee to ensure that the restoration at both sites is completed. The Johnsons will continue to farm other cranberry bogs they own in Carver.
The settlement follows a jury trial verdict on April 25, 2011, in which a jury found that the wetlands and streams altered by the Johnsons at the two sites were subject to the jurisdiction of the federal Clean Water Act. Although the Johnsons were found liable in a court order in 2004, the First Circuit Court of Appeals had remanded the case to the lower court for a trial to determine if the wetlands were covered by the Clean Water Act after the United States Supreme Court’s 2006 decision in a case from Michigan, United States v. Rapanos. The jury found in April that the United States had proven that the Clean Water Act applied to the Johnsons’ sites.
EPA is pleased that this matter is resolved, and that the settlement includes restoration of dozens of acres of forested, scrub and emergent wetlands. Property owners are reminded that before undertaking projects that may alter or damage wetlands, a permit must be issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Natural wetlands are vital to protecting the integrity of our rivers and estuaries. They help to protect the health and safety of people and their communities by providing a natural filtration system for pollution before it gets into our rivers, lakes and ponds, and by preventing flooding after storms. Wetlands also provide valuable wildlife habitat, offering breeding and feeding grounds for a broad array of fish, birds and other wildlife. Converting large areas of natural wetlands to other uses can profoundly alter flood flows, deprive rivers of needed baseflow during dry periods, and can reduce the pollutant-filtering abilities of wetlands.
The lower four miles of the Weweantic River have been determined by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to be impaired as a result of excessive nutrients and pathogens, and loss of valuable eelgrass habitat. The Weweantic River watershed is an important source of clean water and food for Buzzards Bay, impacting not only the area’s ecosystem but the commercial fisheries that depend on it. The wetlands and other waters that the Johnsons filled, alone or in combination with other wetlands and waters in the watershed, had a significant impact on the health of the Weweantic River.
The Army Corps of Engineers, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, as well as state agencies and EPA, provide technical support to farmers to help them comply with wetlands law and encourages farmers to meet with regulatory agencies to ensure they obtain the proper federal permits before constructing or expanding bogs in wetlands. The permit application process ensures that the impacts of development on wetlands are avoided or minimized. All landowners are required to follow appropriate steps before altering wetlands to ensure that these valuable areas are protected.
The settlement is contained in a consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts, and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court. A copy of the consent decree will be available on the Department of Justice Web site at http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html
EPA Wetlands compliance enforcement: http://www.epa.gov/NE/enforcement/wetlands/index.html
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