Appeals Court Upholds Decision Forcing Property Owner to Remove Lawn, Restore Damaged Wetlands

By ecoRI News staff

In a May 1 decision, the Massachusetts Appeals Court validated the 2015 Mattapoisett Conservation Commission’s enforcement order requiring that Daniel Craig of Seabreeze Lane restore nearly a half-acre of filled wetland and buffer zone along Eel Pond, one of Buzzards Bay’s most delicate coastal salt ponds.

The court ruled that the property, which had been filled and altered into residential lawn, must be restored to its original condition.

The Bay Health score for Eel Pond has lingered in the “poor” range for more than 20 years, according to the Buzzards Bay Coalition. 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.

“The Coalition applauds the hard work and vigilance of the Mattapoisett Conservation Commission, Board of Selectmen, Town Administrator and Finance Committee – all of whom played a role in supporting this case,” Korrin Petersen, senior attorney for the Buzzards Bay Coalition, wrote in a statement. “Their leadership on this particularly egregious violation has spanned many years and has been truly commendable.”

In early 2015, the Buzzards Bay Coalition notified the Mattapoisett Conservation Commission of potential violations of the state wetlands protection act along Eel Pond. Google Earth images revealed new filled lawn and garden structures in areas previously shown as wetlands and associated wetland buffer. The Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program, a unit of the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management, provided satellite image analysis to further prove the extent and timeline for the unauthorized alterations.

When Seabreeze Lane was originally developed in 2000, specific protections were placed on the property to mitigate construction impacts on the water quality and habitats surrounding the pond. The aerial images, combined with the Buzzards Bay Coalition’s review of compliance with these protections, revealed that significant state wetlands protection act violations had occurred.

The Mattapoisett Conservation Commission requested that the homeowner meet to resolve the matter. However, after nearly a year of negotiations with the commission, the homeowner withdrew from the conversation and left the board with no choice but to issue an enforcement order to compel compliance.

Refusing to restore the property, the homeowner sued the commission. The Buzzards Bay Coalition, together with 12 residents from Mattapoisett, intervened in that lawsuit to help defend the commission’s decision. The court ruled against the homeowner, affirming the commission’s valid enforcement order.

The homeowner appealed the Superior Court’s decision to the Appeals Court, which upheld the Superior Court’s decision and required the homeowner to restore the property.

The Buzzards Bay Coalition, together with the 12 Mattapoisett residents, is represented pro bono by the law firm Goodwin in this matter.