Taunton Dam Owner Pays $75,000 Penalty to Settle Alleged Violations of Dam Safety and Environmental Protection Laws
The consent judgment, which was entered into Suffolk Superior Court today, resolves allegations that Jefferson Development violated the Massachusetts Dam Safety Act, the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act, and the Massachusetts Public Waterfront Act arising from two unsafe dams in Taunton. Of the $75,000 civil penalty, $25,000 will go into the Natural Resource Damages Trust Fund account to fund environmental restoration projects.
"Our primary goal has always been to ensure the safety of those who live and work downstream from the dams and to hold these parties responsible for the alleged public safety and environmental violations," AG Coakley said. "Today's settlement and the earlier preliminary injunction achieved both of these goals because of successful inter-agency coordination, today's agreement also paves the way to the completion of an integrated bridge and dam reconstruction project. This is a long-term solution that will promote public safety and the health of the local watershed system."
"I am pleased that two of our agencies, DCR and MassDEP, have been part of the solution to the long-standing challenges presented by the Morey's Bridge Dam," Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard K. Sullivan Jr. said. "The settlement announced by Attorney General Coakley today will fund work to redress the immediate public safety issues associated with the dam, as well as restoration of important natural resources at this site."
"DCR appreciates the strong collaboration among agencies and the work of the Attorney General's Office to facilitate this settlement," said DCR Commissioner Edward M. Lambert, Jr. "DCR's Office of Dam Safety has been closely involved over the past several years in monitoring the condition of the Morey's Bridge Dam and alerting the public to any risks posed by its continued deterioration. We look forward to collaborating with the Department of Transportation to restore the dam and in doing so will protect public safety and improve wildlife habitat along the river."
"This settlement addresses DEP's concerns, which focused on the safety of downstream property owners from a potential catastrophic failure of the temporary coffer dam and also restoring base flow to the Mill River downstream of the cofferdam," said MassDEP Commissioner Kenneth L. Kimmell. "We also wanted to ensure that the structure is modified so the release of stormwater is done in a way that minimizes the impacts to residents surrounding Lake Sabbatia."
The complaint, filed on October 30, 2008, alleged that Jefferson Development purchased the Morey's Bridge Dam and an associated mill property in 2005. The dam is a 130-foot long earthen structure that is approximately 12-feet high and in deteriorating condition. The Office of Dam Safety within the Department of Conservation and Recreation classified the dam as "unsafe," and proceeded to issue a series of orders to Jefferson Development and the company's principal, David L. Murphy, to repair the dam to reduce public safety risks. The complaint alleges that Jefferson Development and Murphy failed to comply with those orders in violation of the Massachusetts Dam Safety Act.
Due to the serious, un-abated risk the ailing dam posed to people and property, the Attorney General's Office also sought and later obtained a preliminary injunction against Jefferson Development on November 12, 2008, in which Jefferson Development was required to take immediate steps to abate the most serious risks at Morey's Bridge Dam. Those steps have since been completed.
The complaint also alleged that Jefferson Development and Murphy were in violation of a February 2008 Administrative Consent Order (ACO) with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). The order concerned safety and environmental issues regarding a second "temporary" dam, which had been constructed upstream of Morey's Bridge Dam by members of Help Save the Lake and with assistance from Jefferson Development and Murphy to raise the water level of Lake Sabbatia. The Attorney General entered into a settlement agreement with Help Save the Lake in 2009 to resolve that group's environmental liability for constructing the temporary dam . Today's settlement resolves Jefferson Development's alleged violations of the MassDEP ACO, which arose from the company's failure to evaluate and remedy structural and safety issues with the temporary dam as required by the MassDEP ACO.
Today's settlement provides the foundation for a long-term solution to the problems presented by the deterioration of Morey's Bridge Dam. The conveyance of what remains of Morey's Bridge Dam to the Commonwealth will enable the completion of an integrated dam and bridge reconstruction project for Morey's Bridge and the failing dam. The dam-bridge reconstruction project will be overseen by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the Massachusetts Department of Conversation and Recreation.
The new bridge will promote transportation safety, while the new dam will promote public safety and restore higher water levels to Lake Sabbatia. In addition, the new dam will also include a fish ladder that will further the Massachusetts Riverways Program's ongoing efforts to restore fish migration throughout the Mill River and into Lake Sabbatia. Morey's Bridge Dam has blocked fish passage into Lake Sabbatia for more than 100 years. Finally, today's settlement also adds $25,000 to the Natural Resource Damages Trust to fund watershed restoration projects in and around the Mill River watershed to further promote the restoration of the ecological health of the local watershed.
The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Seth Schofield of Attorney General Coakley's Environmental Protection Division, Dean Bates and Monique Cascarano, both investigators in Attorney General Coakley's Civil Investigations Division, as well as William Salomaa, Director of DCR's Office of Dam Safety, Tom LaRosa, Deputy General Counsel, and Ariana Johnson, Assistant General Counsel, both of DCR, and Christopher Ross, Environmental Engineer, Shaun Walsh, Senior Regional Counsel, Liz Kouloheras, Chief, Wetlands and Waterways, and Jonathan Hobill, Acting Deputy Regional Director of the Southeastern Regional Bureau of Resource Protection, all of MassDEP's Southeast Regional Office in Lakeville.