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Johnson’s Pond Management Battle Continues in Court

[CREDIT:openstreetmap.org/copyright] A map showing the dam at Johnson's Pond, also known as Flat River Reservoir, in Coventry, RI.

[CREDIT:openstreetmap.org/copyright] A map showing the dam at Johnson's Pond, also known as Flat River Reservoir, in Coventry, RI.
[CREDIT:openstreetmap.org/copyright]A map showing the dam at Johnson’s Pond, also known as Flat River Reservoir, in Coventry, RI.
COVENTRY, RI — The saga of Johnson’s Pond management continues to play out this summer, much like it did last summer and the summer before that, spanning court cases, new laws, money and anger.

Tuesday night, the Coventry Town Council met at town hall, 1670 Flat River Road, to invite public discussion of the matter before discussing the court cases concerning it in executive session. Two residents spoke during the public comment section of the meeting, both addressing concerns about Johnson’s Pond.

Mark Lemoi, President of the Johnson’s Pond Association thanked the Council for its support of the town in the lawsuit that was filed against the state by Soscia Holdings, LLC, the owners of Johnson’s Pond. He explained that he had been in court last Friday and Monday listening to the hearing proceedings about the lawsuit between Soscia Holdings, LLC, owned in part by Doug Soscia, the town and the state. The LLC has owned the dam and water rights on the pond since purchasing them for $1.7 million in 2020.

Johson’s Pond Management Dispute

Shortly after that purchase, water levels on the pond began to fall, hampering recreation and wildlife in the area. Soscia Holdings LLC also sued the Town of Coventry for failing to maintain the dam.

In a 2021 interview with Jason Messier, West Warwick’s Ward 3 Town Council representative and moderator for the Coventry, RI; Biggest Town in The Smallest State facebook group, Soscia said he plans to charge the town of Coventry a $1.5 million lease for use of the lake and also charge lakefront property owners $2,000 a year with a 3.4 percent increase annually.

In the same interview, Soscia said the risk of the dam failing and causing damage Soscia Holdings LLC would be responsible for was too high without the compensation he proposes.

“If there wasn’t compensation for the use of the dam and the maintenance of the property, I don’t think anybody would increase the risk of putting water against the dam,” Soscia said. “We can’t put water against the dam and expose ourselves to liability, of the dam breaking, and being responsible for damage downstream.”

In February 2021, Soscia told WJAR10 they had lowered the water levels in the pond the previous year out of concern for safety.

Socia’s plans for the dam and the recent management of it have generated ample social media commentary and a petition on Change.org, “Give Coventry Johnson’s Pond Back!” that has collected 1,500 signatures.

In 2022, the General Assembly passed a bill authored by Sen. Leonidas P. Raptakis’ (D-Dist. 33, Coventry, East Greenwich, West Greenwich) requiring any person operating or owning a dam with a storage capacity greater than 1,400 normal storage acre feet of water to obtain a permit from DEM to raise or lower the water level behind the dam.

Soscia Holdings LLC has also sued to fight the DEM’s enforcement of that law.

Johnson’s Pond: More than a lakefront issue

In previous statements about the importance of Johnson’s Pond, Raptakis said Johnson’s Pond is a major ecological and recreational resource, the hydrology of which has had major impacts on communities and property owners throughout the Kent County region.

“Johnson’s Pond is a regulated wetland that exists in part on private property, just like most of the other wetlands that DEM regulates. In the past, DEM and the Coventry Emergency Management Agency have, through trained meteorologists, assisted in guiding the water levels of the pond at times of significant anticipated events.”

About 600 people live on Johnson’s Pond, officially known as Flat River Reservoir. The pond flows into the Pawtuxet River, which runs through five communities, with approximately 240,000 residents, in Rhode Island.

Tuesday Public Comment on the Jonson’s Pond dispute

“I feel personally, that the Town’s legal team has done an excellent job representing the town and presenting the facts,” Lemoi said. He added that not everyone in town realizes how much effort and cost has gone into protecting the town in the lawsuit and protecting the pond and the environment. “This is multi-faceted,” he explained.

Lemoi said that almost everyone he has spoken with regarding this issue is in favor of anything the town can do to put a stop to Socia Holdings LLC’s bad damn management and bad water level management. “We would be in favor of working with the Council on a damn management district setup,” said Lemoi, pointing out how this plan of action has been successful in several neighboring towns throughout Rhode Island.

Coventry resident Steve Reilly, who also resides on Johnson’s Pond, asked whether or not the entire Johnson’s Pond issue is in fact a more public than private issue and should be garnering the attention, action and interceding of the state and the Attorney General.

No discussion was allowed on the issue and the Council adjourned into executive session. When the Council emerged from executive session it was announced that no vote had been taken on the issue and the minutes of the executive session were sealed.

The Council’s next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 8.

Karena Garrity
Author: Karena Garrity

Karena Garrity, a contributing writer for WarwickPost.com, has covered local news and feature stories for several publications, including CTNewsJunkie, Connecticut Magazine, Westerly Sun Newspaper, Northeast Equestrian Life Magazine and Patch.com.

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