BOSTON (Mass.gov) – A Pennsylvania-based solar energy development company has agreed to pay a total of approximately $1.14 million to settle allegations that its violations of federal stormwater requirements damaged protected wetland resources in the town of Williamsburg and polluted the West Branch Mill River, a cold-water fishery, Attorney General Maura Healey announced today.
The consent decree, filed with the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts and pending court approval, settles an April 2020 lawsuit filed by the AG’s Office alleging that Dynamic Energy Solutions, LLC (Dynamic) disregarded fundamental pollution control requirements for construction sites under federal and state law when it constructed an 18.5-acre solar array on a steep hillside above the West Branch Mill River in Williamsburg.
“Developers must abide by our important state and federal laws designed to protect precious natural resources like wetlands that prevent flooding and storm damage, and support wildlife,” AG Healey said. “This resolution requires the company to restore the resources it damaged and to fund land acquisitions that will improve the water quality of the West Branch Mill River.”
In its complaint, the AG’s Office alleges that Dynamic caused sediment-laden stormwater to flow in extreme amounts off the array site, which led to eroding the hillside, scouring out perennial and intermittent streams, uprooting trees, destroying streambeds, filling in wetlands with sediment, and causing the river to become brown, in violation of federal and state laws protecting water and wetland resources.
The AG’s Office alleges that Dynamic’s failure to comply with construction stormwater pollution control requirements altered approximately 97,000 square feet of protected wetlands and more than 41,000 feet of riverfront area and covered the bottom of the West Branch Mill River with the equivalent of more than an acre of sediment pollution.
The complaint further alleges that Dynamic’s actions destroyed wildlife habitat and vegetation and changed the flow of the tributaries feeding the West Branch Mill River. The West Branch Mill River is a valuable cold-water fishery that is important to the Northern Spring Salamander and a dragonfly species known as the Ocellated Darner. Dynamic also allegedly failed to comply with an enforcement order issued by Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) requiring the stabilization of the site, stormwater controls, and restoration of the damaged resources. MassDEP’s Western Regional Office investigated the case and referred it to the AG’s Office for further enforcement.
“The impacts to the wetlands and wildlife habitat areas were not only egregious, they were entirely avoidable,” said Michael Gorski, director of MassDEP’s Western Regional Office in Springfield. “Solar energy is an important part of the state’s long-term energy strategy, however, projects must be sited, designed and constructed in a thoughtful manner to ensure that they do not result in the degradation of our vital natural resources.”
Under the terms of the consent decree, Dynamic must comply with state and federal laws to protect water quality and natural resources at the solar array, restore impacted resources at an estimated cost of $530,000, and place a parcel of 24 acres near the West Branch Mill River into conservation at an estimated cost of $210,000. The company must also pay $215,000 to fund the acquisition of land by a trust to benefit water quality in the Mill River, pay a penalty of $100,000 to the Commonwealth’s General Fund, and pay $80,000 to the AG’s Office for costs, including attorney fees.
Stormwater pollution is regulated under a variety of federal Clean Water Act permits and is recognized as the largest threat to water quality in the state. Today’s announcement is part of a civil enforcement initiative out of AG Healey’s Environmental Protection Division that focuses on combatting pollution by enforcing the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act and the federal Clean Air Act in Massachusetts, along with applicable state environmental laws. The AG’s Office has successfully resolved ten cases under this initiative since the program’s inception in 2019. These settlements have recovered over $1 million for local environmental improvement projects and civil penalties.
This case was handled by Special Assistant Attorney General Nora Chorover and Attorney Emily Mitchell of Attorney General Healey’s Environmental Protection Division, with the assistance of Senior Regional Counsel Heather Parent, and technical staff members David Cameron and David Foulis of MassDEP’s Western Regional Office in Springfield.