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Release Date: 07/25/1996
Contact Information: Alice Kaufman, EPA Press Office; (617) 918-1064 Jim Sweeney, DOJ Press Office; (202) 616-2771

BOSTON -- Cumberland Farms, Inc. has settled a federal lawsuit seeking a remedy for damage it caused to over 180 acres of valuable wetlands near Halifax and Hanson in southeastern Massachusetts.

Under the agreement filed today in a U.S. District Court in Boston, Cumberland Farms will be required to deed two separate tracts totalling 225 acres of undeveloped land in nearby Middleboro, Massachusetts to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife for permanent conservation. In addition, the company will establish a 30 acre wildlife and wetlands corridor on the most seriously damaged site and pay a $50,000 civil penalty for violating the federal Clean Water Act.

In 1991, the Department of Justice, on behalf of EPA, sued Cumberland Farms and others for alleged wetlands violations. Specifically, the government said that Cumberland Farms and others destroyed approximately 180 acres of wetlands at four separate sites in Halifax and Hanson, MA. The defendants damaged the wetlands during the land's conversion to cranberry bogs. The alleged violations occurred between 1977 and 1990.

Today's settlement, together with an earlier agreement with two other parties, Baybank and Northland Cranberries, Inc., will preserve some 490 acres of undeveloped habitat. This represents the largest permanent preservation of habitat arising from a federal enforcement action in New England. In addition, these agreements call for the restoration or enhancement of an additional 50 acres of valuable wetlands and the 30-acre wetlands and wildlife corridor.

"This settlement is a big win for the environment and reinforces the message that violators of our wetlands laws will be punished," said Lois J. Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "Significant wetlands will be preserved or restored to the benefit of the public and the environment at a far greater cost to the company than if it had protected the wetlands in the first place."

Wetlands are areas saturated by surface or groundwater and often the only support for important fish, wildlife and plant species. In addition, wetlands draw water from nearby areas, helping to protect homeowners and crops from flood damage. They also act as filters for pollutants -- nature's pollution control devices.

"Settlements of this kind -- which provide immediate and direct preservation of valuable habitat through a partnership with the Commonwealth -- are fundamental to EPA-New England's efforts in protecting sensitive ecosystems," said John DeVillars, the Regional Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Habitat preservation, particularly the preservation of large tracts of wetlands, ensures not only a rich diversity of wildlife, but confirms New England's long tradition of land conservation for the benefit of the public."

The deeded property will be owned and managed by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife in accordance with a signed agreement between EPA and the Commonwealth.

The 30-acre wildlife and wetland corridor will be created by Cumberland Farms in Halifax, near the site of the largest wetland violation. The preserve will include 16 acres of new wetlands and will provide critical access for wildlife between nearby Burrage Pond and the Great Cedar Swamp. Large portions of the Great Cedar Swamp are being deeded to the Massachusetts Audubon Society as a result of the earlier related agreement.

In January 1995, the U.S. reached a voluntary agreement with the sites' current owner and mortgagor, Northland and Baybank. Under the agreement, Northland and Baybank agreed to preserve 265 acres of valuable wildlife habitat near the sites by deeding them to the Massachusetts Audubon Society. In addition, that agreement called for the restoration of 13 acres of wetlands and the enhancement of another 38 acres in the vicinity of the damaged property.

While the settlement has been signed by the U.S. and the defendants, it becomes final only after a period of public comment and review and approval by the court.