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EPA REACHES SETTLEMENT ON CAPE WETLANDS CASE

Release Date: 04/18/1997
Contact Information: Mark Stein, (617)565-3169

BOSTON -- The New England office of the Environmental Protection Agency and Cape Cod Hospital reached an agreement last week to restore and preserve more than 18 acres of wetlands in Yarmouth, Mass. that the EPA alleges were converted to a cranberry bog without the necesssary permits. As part of the agreement the hospital will also preserve an additional 26 acres adjacent to the restored wetlands.

Although a cranberry bog operation had been conducted at the site in the past, the EPA alleges that it had not been in operation for many years. With the bog operation effectively abandoned, the site had largely reverted to a natural wetland state.

Prior to being converted to cranberry bogs, the wetlands provided wildlife habitat, water purification and flood storage functions. Conversion of a natural wetlands system to an intensively managed single-crop usage results in a significant loss of these functions. Once the wetlands are restored, these critical functions will be reestablished.

"By restoring these wetlands to their natural state, we will protect and preserve an important part of the Cape's landscape," said John P. DeVillars, administrator of the EPA's New England office. "We hope that today's announcement, together with our efforts to work with the industry, will serve notice to other cranberry bog owners and developers that they need federal permits before expanding their operations into abandoned bogs and wetlands. It's clear the hospital did not willfully violate the Clean Water Act and their cooperation in achieving this settlement has been helpful."

The EPA alleges that the hospital and its agent excavated and filled approximately 18 acres of a 44-acre scrub-shrub wetland in order to create cranberry bogs without first obtaining the required Clean Water Act permit to authorize such work. The US Army Corps of Engineers referred the case to the EPA, then assisted in its development.

The EPA, along with other federal and state agencies, has been working with the cranberry industry for the past decade to assist cranberry growers in understanding and complying with environmental regulations. In the coming year, the New England office of the EPA plans on substantially expanding this education and assistance effort.

Under the terms of the agreement, the hospital will provide the EPA with a final plan for restoring the converted wetlands, and for permanently preserving all the wetlands on the site in their natural state. Cape Cod Hospital will implement these two plans once the EPA approves them.

EPA and Corps investigators inspected the site last April and found that the hospital had illegally filled 18.5 acres. The work stopped once the EPA advised the hospital that placement of any additional sand, additional excavation, and/or grubbing of vegetation would constitute additional violations of the Clean Water Act. After ceasing work, the hospital cooperated with the EPA in reaching today's agreement.