Last year, we told you about a neighborhood in Mattapoisett called Harbor View Heights where homes appeared to have violated laws to protect wetlands on Eel Pond. When this development was built in 2000, the Coalition worked with the Mattapoisett Conservation Commission to add special requirements that would prevent new pollution to Eel Pond.
Each home is supposed to have a permanent “no-build” buffer zone between the homes and the surrounding wetlands. This buffer zone acts as an extra layer of pollution protection for the pond. Other requirements include enhanced nitrogen-reducing septic systems, limits on lawn sizes, and runoff controls.
But now, more than 15 years later, it appears that many of these requirements were never met. After comparing aerial photographs of the community between 2009 and 2014, the Coalition found many violations that further threaten the health of Eel Pond.
The Bay Health score for Eel Pond has lingered in the “poor” range for more than 20 years. Nitrogen pollution from nearby home septic systems and lawn fertilizers collects in this small, sensitive pond, fueling the growth of algae that harms fish, crabs, and wildlife.
At one home, a perfectly manicured lawn now cuts deeply into the buffer zone, where natural plants and soil were supposed to have been left undisturbed. Trees were cut down and wetlands were filled. In total, nearly half an acre of wetlands and buffer zone was filled in and built upon. The damage violates the town’s special requirements for the development and the state’s Wetlands Protection Act.
Last year, the Mattapoisett Conservation Commission told the homeowners to develop a restoration plan to fix the damage to the buffer zone and wetlands. But the plan the homeowners submitted didn’t do enough to restore the damage. Now, after the commission took enforcement action against the homeowners last fall, the issue is going to court.
Along with 12 Mattapoisett residents and the support of the town, the Coalition intervened in the case to help the Conservation Commission defend its enforcement order. We advocated for those special protections for Eel Pond more than 15 years ago, and we want to see these damaged areas restored to protect the pond’s health. The judge agreed, granting the Coalition the right to become a party to the lawsuit.
In November, the Coalition and town representatives will argue in support of the enforcement order to require the homeowner to restore the buffer zone and wetlands. Additionally, the Coalition and the 12 citizens filed its own citizen suit against the homeowners; that case will also meet in court in November. We’re represented in both cases by Goodwin Procter, a leading Boston law firm.
The Coalition will keep doing our part to watch out for construction violations like these. Working together with towns like Mattapoisett, we are helping to restore damaged habitats and protect clean water in communities across the Bay.