A Relieving Outcome to a Long-Standing Issue
It’s a relief to see the issue of soil contamination in the Bay St. area of Tiverton headed toward resolution:
A settlement of the massive Bay Street area lawsuit has been agreed to and the contaminated neighborhood is expected to be cleaned up by the end of this year, the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) announced today.
The settlement was “executed” May 18, said Gail Mastratti, a spokesperson for DEM. In addition to the DEM, the pact includes Southern Union, the Town of Tiverton, and the estimated 125 plaintiffs in the lawsuit who are residents living on about 74 contaminated properties in the 50-acre Bay Street neighborhood in north Tiverton. …
It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that a change in the law that gives the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) the power to issue fines up to $25,000 per day (from the previous $1,000 per day) as a “pollution penalty” expedited the agreement, and in that we see a dubious method for achieving the happy end. A daily penalty, it seems to me, implies pollution that is ongoing, that an organization or individual refuses to stop. It’s possible that I’m missing something, but what the DEM now appears to have is a huge cudgel to dictate who will pay for remediation outside the processes of adjudicative law. It costs the state nothing to implement fines, but it escalates the risk of seeking a legal ruling if a loss means the payment of penalties accrued during the process.
I’ve long maintained that other strategies for dealing with our less-enlightened past ought to be absorbed into the culture and might, indeed, have resulted in a more rapid resolution in this case. Only time, and the next case down the line, will tell whether a harmful precedent has been set.