The Agency of Natural Resources announced today that Ruby Construction, Inc., former owner of the hilltop property containing the Mammoth Quarry in the Town of Wells, and the company’s lessee Royal Harrison, were jointly held responsible for a massive discharge of water and sediment into Lake St. Catherine. They have been fined a minimum of $9,000 and are required to appropriately remove the deposited sediment from the lake.
On a sunny Sunday afternoon in April 2014, neighboring homeowners on West Lake Road, a residential road along Lake St. Catherine and downhill from the Mammoth Quarry, were outside enjoying the weather when an enormous discharge event occurred. The homeowners described witnessing a wall of water that rumbled down the forested hill, quickly overwhelmed an intermittent streambed, blocked a culvert and overtopped West Lake Road. The Wells Fire Department and road crews responded to close the road and assist in diverting the water away from the two homes, one of which had water flowing into the basement. The water moved swiftly for several hours, ripping up and dragging slate flagstones across one homeowner’s property and gouging out new pathways into the lake on the other. Debris and sediment flowed well into Lake St. Catherine. The event temporarily cut off road access to residents of both Wells and Poultney on the northern portion of West Lake Road, which dead-ends.
One homeowner followed the water up the hill behind his property in an attempt to investigate the cause of the release. He followed the rushing water up the steep hill and identified recent excavator tracks around the area. While the excavator was no longer at the site, there was clear evidence of unnatural excavation of a beaver dam at its downstream point, which was now draining the large reservoir of water. Later that day, Town of Wells officials retraced the flow of the water, which had subsided but not stopped by the evening, and tracked the excavator marks away from the draining pond. They followed muddy tracks to a full-size excavator, parked, and with a warm engine.
Agency personnel inspected the site that week and estimated more than 22 cubic yards of sediment and material had been moved by the water and deposited into the lake. When a beaver dam is breached, either by natural failure or intentional removal, the downstream consequences can be extreme. For this reason, any intentional beaver dam removal must be permitted by a Vermont State Game Warden. No such permit was sought in this case, and the release of the dam by excavator caused a significant illegal discharge to State waters. This event also caused a sudden change in the ecosystem of the bay. Sediment discharges speed up a process called eutrophication, which is the natural progression of open water to wetland. Such a large input of sediment instantly decreases the depth of the lake in the area and degrades the habitat quality for lake species that live in deeper water.
Following the event and investigation, the Agency issued notices to Ruby Construction, Inc. and Royal Harrison alleging the violation of an illegal discharge into a water of the state, and outlining the process to clean up the damage. Ruby Construction, Inc. and Royal Harrison never admitted fault for the discharge, and requested a hearing in front of the Vermont Superior Court, Environmental Division. The two-day hearing was held March 2 and 3, 2017, and the Court issued a decision on the merits and judgment order on July 28, 2017 affirming the Agency’s position. The Court’s order requires Ruby Construction, Inc. and Royal Harrison pay a penalty of $9,000 and apply for a permit from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s Lakes and Ponds Management and Protection Program to appropriately remove the sediment from the Lake by next fall. All sediment removal and lake restoration is to be paid for by the respondents, and an additional penalty of $3,000 will be assessed if compliance is not achieved by October 31, 2018.
For more information about DEC’s Lakes and Ponds Management and Protection Program, visit http://dec.vermont.gov/watershed/lakes-ponds.