The Monponsett Watershed Association, an organization that oversees the maintenance and preservation of Monponsett Ponds, met with Halifax Selectmen during their Tuesday, Oct. 22 meeting to discuss significant delays in various treatments and other action items pertaining to the ponds. President Suzanne Lillie, Vice President Don Barrows, Treasurer Jamie Stewart, and Secretary Marianne Moore were all in attendance.
In 1964 a law was passed allowing the city of Brockton to divert water from West Monponsett Pond and East Monponsett Pond to Silver Lake, a major source of Brockton’s water supply. The water drawn from Monponsett Pond was to augment Silver Lake’s water during a severe drought. The water draw from Silver Lake has increased substantially since 1964.
In 2016, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Agency (DEP) published a report looking at the daily load of pollutants in the ponds. While cranberry cultivation, residential development, septic systems, and stormwater runoff all contribute to the pond’s impairment, the diversion of water from Monponsett Pond to Silver Lake is a significant contributor.
Following the publication, the DEP issued Brockton an Administrative Consent Order (ACO) in 2017 identifying violations of Chapter 371 of the Acts of 1964 regarding water quality and timeline for the completion of tasks and a call to action to develop a resource management plan (RMP). It also requested that the Comprehensive Water Management Plan be updated, something Lillie doesn’t believe has been done since 2009.
In January of 2019, an RMP with a scope of work was issued. Lillie said, “It basically takes the ACO, which was fairly bureaucratic, and it turns it into actionable statement of work items such as review of historical information, collection of data, estimating seasonal releases from the dam, and operating procedures for Silver Lake and the diversion station.”
Following the issuing of the RMP, there was a public hearing and the Monponsett Watershed Association was able to submit written comments to the DEP and receive responses in turn. The Watershed Association asked about the part of the plan that called for the placement of a temporary plug in the Route 58 culvert to separate the East and West Monponsett Ponds. The Watershed Association felt that Brockton’s motivation for the plug was to preserve East Pond regardless of the further degradation of West Pond. DEP responded saying there was no intent to further degrade West Pond adding, “In response to the public comments received in opposition to the evaluation of a temporary barrier between east and west pond, the City will not investigate the temporary barrier. MassDEP concurs with this decision.” Lillie said, “This, what we think was a fairly pivotal point, was not included in the amendment.”
The final RMP was scheduled to be completed by March 22, 2019, but the deadline came and went without an update so Lillie planned to contact the DEP. Before she could do that, former Monponsett Watershed Association president Paul Collis forwarded to Lillie an email he received as commissioner of the Central Plymouth County Water Commission. It included an amendment to the ACO that pushed forward all the dates of the major deliverables by as many as 49 months. Lillie questioned the reason for the amendment and received an email from David Johnston, the Deputy Regional Director for the Bureau of Water Resources in Mass DEP’s southeast regional office. The email read, “The amendment was distributed because there were unforeseen delays experienced by both parties and the desire to extend the deadline for the comprehensive water management plan submittal beyond the resource management plan completion date.” Johnston did not specify what those unforeseen delays were. Lillie said, “The completion date should have been in 2019; obviously that didn’t happen – it’s now January of 2023. So, I won’t tell you the words I said when I first figured it out.” Regarding the delays and the lack of communication, Selectmen Tom Millias said, “It’s all politics, every single little bit of it.”
The Monponsett Watershed Association asked the Board for assistance in improving communication with DEP as they need to be made aware of both progress and anticipated delays. Millias said that he felt the only recourse would be through legislators. Chair Troy Garron agreed saying that his first suggestion would be to reach out to Senator Michael D. Brady. Brady had previously aided in getting money into the state budget for water treatments. Millias pointed out, however, that as Brady’s district includes Second Plymouth and Bristol, a large portion of his voting base comes from Brockton. Lillie agreed but said that while the improvements would cost the city of Brockton, it would also benefit them as the Monponsett Pond is a water supply for many of their residents. Everyone was also in agreement about reaching out to State Representative Kathleen LaNatra.
The Watershed Association also requested a point person on the Board as former Halifax Selectman Kim Roy used to act as liaison between the Association and the Board. Due to time constraints and previous commitments, the selectmen said that it would be best for Selectmen assistant Pamela McSherry to fulfill that role. The Association also said that they would like to see the Monponsett Pond Working Group reinstituted.
Selectman Gordon Andrews suggested the possibility of suing the city of Brockton, but town administrator Charlie Seelig pointed out that it would be necessary to consider the cost of legal action against monetary recompense.
In addition to their meeting with the Watershed Association, the selectmen also selected their finalist for the new Council on Aging Director. It was a unanimous decision with all three selectmen citing Wendy Adams as their first choice. Her selection is contingent upon a CORI check and her acceptance of the town’s offer. The Board felt that Adams has both the experience and the educational background to succeed in the role.