For Immediate Release - April 05, 2010

Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office Sues Owners of Unsafe Dams in Plympton and Pittsfield

BOSTON - Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office filed two separate lawsuits against private dam owners in Pittsfield and Plympton for failing to comply with state orders to repair dams that have been deemed structurally unsafe and hazardous. The Attorney General's Office is filing these lawsuits on behalf of the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

The lawsuits seek immediate orders from the courts requiring the defendants to take certain immediate steps to address the risks posed by two structurally unsafe dams.

"Recent heavy rains have served as a reminder of how important it is to maintain the integrity of dams throughout the Commonwealth in order to keep our communities safe and protect homes and businesses," said Attorney General Coakley. Unfortunately, the state has had to step in and expend state resources several times to address safety risks at these dams, when the responsibility clearly resides with the private owners of these structures. Years of inaction on behalf of these private dam owners is unacceptable and has forced the state to file these lawsuits to ensure the safety of those who live near the dams."

"DCR greatly appreciates the Attorney General's action in the case of these two dams," said Rick Sullivan, commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), whose Office of Dam Safety regulates nearly 1,600 dams across the Commonwealth. "Public safety is our primary concern, and it is high time the owners of these dams were forced to comply with their responsibilities under state law."

"As the recent storm has demonstrated, keeping dams in good condition is critical to public safety," said Energy and Environment Secretary Ian Bowles. "Thanks to the good work of Attorney General Martha Coakley, dam owners who do not live up to this obligation will be held accountable."

The first lawsuit was filed Thursday, April 1, 2010, in Berkshire Superior Court against J. Barrett Hollister, the owner of the Bel Air Dam in Pittsfield, which is categorized as high hazard potential. The complaint asserts the state has deemed the Bel Air Dam unsafe since 2002 and a high hazard since 2005, but that the defendant has repeatedly failed to comply with orders issued by the DCR to repair the dam and address safety issues. The Attorney General's Office has also asked the court for a preliminary injunction requiring the owner to take immediate steps to address safety concerns. A hearing on that motion has been scheduled for April 6, 2010, at 2:00 p.m. at the Berkshire Superior Court

The second lawsuit was filed Thursday, April 1, 2010, in Plymouth Superior Court against Roger W. O'Neil, Jr., the registered owner of Dennett's Pond Dam in Plympton, which is categorized as significant hazard potential. The complaint asserts that the state deemed Dennett's Pond Dam unsafe and a public safety hazard, but that the defendant has failed to comply with a March 2007 order that contained numerous requirements. The complaint asserts multiple notices were issued by the DCR to repair the dam and address safety issues. The complaint further asserts that due to the defendant's inaction, the state has been forced to expend funds to abate emergency conditions at the dam. The Attorney General's Office has also asked the court for a preliminary injunction requiring the owner to take immediate steps to address safety concerns. A hearing on that motion has been scheduled for April 6, 2010, at 2:00 p.m. at the Plymouth Superior Court

These cases were filed pursuant to the Massachusetts Dam Safety Act. Each complaint seeks a court order for the owner to repair or breach the dam, reimbursement for the costs of repair the state has incurred addressing safety matters, and civil penalties.

The case against Roger W. O'Neil is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Dan Less, chief of Attorney General Coakley's Southeastern Massachusetts Regional Office .The case against J. Barrett Hollister is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Kerry Strayer, of Attorney General Coakley's Western Massachusetts Regional Office, William Salomaa, director of DCR's Office of Dam Safety; Ariana Johnson, DCR Assistant General Counsel; and Michael Misslin, DCR acting chief engineer, are assisting with both cases.

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