A natural gas company is building a pipeline. Along the route of the pipeline is a tract of forested conservation land. This land includes a pond that is treasured by the local community. Generations of local residents have grown up hiking and swimming and canoeing and enjoying wildlife around the pond.
When the gas company first proposes to build its pipeline through the conservation area, the residents are alarmed, particularly at the potential for pollution of the pond. The pond is located just several hundred feet downgradient of the proposed pipeline route. However, there is ultimately nothing that the land trust can do to stop the pipeline from being built through its land: when the land trust refuses to sell a right of way to the company, the company simply goes to court and obtains a right of way through eminent domain. The company assures the residents, as well as the local Conservation Commission, that the pond is at no risk of pollution from the pipeline.
The company’s first step in building the pipeline is to clear a 100-foot wide corridor through the forest. This corridor is necessary in order to move the heavy machinery that will be used to dig the pipeline trench and lay the pipe.
Shortly after the company breaks ground, visitors to the pond notice that its water is becoming saturated with sediment during and after storms. These visitors worry about the impact of the sediment on the pond’s wildlife. The land trust complains to the company, which denies that it is the source of the sediment. The land trust calls the Conservation Commission, which investigates. The company is forced to admit that its pipeline corridor, with its acres of exposed soil, is the source of the sediment. The company promises to take the necessary precautions to prevent its soil from running off into the pond during storms. The situation, however, does not improve. The residents continue to complain. The company assures them that it is working diligently to address the problem. The residents continue to call the Conservation Commission, reporting that the pollution of the pond persists. The Conservation Commission responds that it is working with the company, and that improvement is anticipated. Improvement does not occur. The pond continues to be saturated with runoff sediment during storms.
Finally, the land trust calls an experienced Massachusetts environment law attorney. The attorney meets with the trust’s members and explains that the gas company’s sediment pollution constitutes a nuisance and a trespass, for which they have a right to sue. The attorney explains that if they sue, they can seek a judge’s order immediately enjoining the pollution, and an award of damages sufficient to enable them to remove the sediment from the pond. The trust retains the attorney. The attorney files suit on the trust’s behalf, and successfully moves for a preliminary court order enjoining further sediment pollution. The litigation is ultimately settled with the company agreeing to pay for the restoration of the pond.