DEM Issues Compliance Order Directing Coventry Dam Owner to Immediately Correct Safety Deficiencies

Published on Tuesday, April 09, 2024

DEM, Attorney General continue fighting to compel dam owner to comply with state laws

PROVIDENCE, RI — The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) has issued an immediate compliance order (ICO) directing the owner of the Johnson’s Pond dam to immediately draw down and maintain the water level two feet below the top of the spillway, and if necessary, continue lowering the level by one additional foot at a time until no water is ejecting through the spillway. DEM inspections of the dam over several days found continuing changes in the stone spillway including dislodged stones and water ejecting through the spillway at several locations, which has led DEM — the state’s dam safety regulator — to consider the dam to be unsafe. 

DEM issued the ICO April 3 and served it to the attorney for the owner, Soscia Holdings LLC, April 4. The order also directs Soscia Holdings to place sandbags along the spillway to reinforce the structure. Further, the ICO orders Soscia Holdings to retain a dam engineer and within 14 days conduct a detailed investigation of the dam, submit a report of deficiencies and corrective measures to DEM, and submit a plan to install siphons and/or large capacity pumps to provide additional drawdown capacity if needed. On April 8, DEM personnel were on site as a work crew placed sandbags at the dam at DEM’s direction to comply with the ICO, which is in effect for 45 days and may be renewed for an additional 45 days.

“By law, DEM is charged with ensuring the safety of dams in Rhode Island, thereby protecting public safety and the environment,” said DEM Director Terry Gray. “We are using every means at our disposal to compel Soscia Holdings LLC to fulfill its responsibilities to ensure the structural integrity and safe operation of the Johnson’s Pond dam.”

“All dam owners have an obligation to ensure the safety of their dams,” said Attorney General Peter F. Neronha. “The recent enforcement action by DEM was pivotal to ensuring the immediate and future safety of the dam at Johnson’s Pond for nearby residents. We look forward to working with DEM as they continue to oversee dam safety at Johnson’s Pond and at sites throughout Rhode Island as we continue to experience the very real effects of climate change and increased flooding across the State.”


In addition to the ICO, for almost two years, DEM and the Office of Attorney General Neronha have fought to compel Soscia Holdings LLC to comply with a state law that was enacted in 2022 requiring anyone who owns or operates a dam that has a storage capacity greater than 1,400 acre-feet to obtain a permit from the DEM to raise or lower the water levels behind the dam. Until such a permit is officially issued, the dam must operate at historic levels. Soscia Holdings LLC sued DEM and Director Gray in federal court in July 2022 alleging that it was unconstitutional for DEM to regulate water levels in Johnson’s Pond as authorized by Rhode Island law. On March 24, the judge dismissed Soscia’s case following the Attorney General’s successful defense in federal court.

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