Mining operation on Monponsett Pond in drinking water protection zone under the ruse of “cranberry agriculture”
In May, 2023 residents sued two cranberry companies, Ryco Excavating and sought injunction to stop the mining operation
On June 21, 2023 Superior Court judge sides with company, denies injunction
Cranberry company Controller testifies if they can’t conduct earth removal operations it would be “catastrophic” to our business
On November 6, 2023, Residents ask Board of Selectmen not to issue another earth removal permit
An ongoing grassroots campaign is exposing Morse Brothers mining under the ruse of cranberry agriculture. Morse operates a “portfolio of approximately 300 total acres of cranberry growing.” The Halifax bogs are part of the portfolio. The Halifax site is at 250 Lingan Street, on the Whaleback Ridge, a forested glacial esker. The Whaleback has been studied for its role in Native American Indigenous cultural significance.
Morse has been strip mining for at least a decade. It has extracted at least 165,000 cubic yards of sand and gravel. Morse has more deposits of valuable sand and gravel on the uplands around the existing bogs including the rest of the Whaleback Ridge. Morse obtained an earth removal permit in 2016 for 50,000 cubic yards. In April, 2022 Morse applied for another permit to expand by 1.14 million cubic yards. Facing fierce public opposition Morse withdrew the permit application in August 2022. Morse, Ryco and Hannual kept mining anyway and in December 2022 the Selectboard issued a cease and desist. The companies still kept mining. The residents went to court in May 2023. Read more of the story below.
Morse applies for a new earth removal permit, 20,000 cubic yards of soil and sand, November 2023
On November 6, 2023 the Halifax Board of Selectmen held a public hearing about to Morse Brothers’ new application for a permit to remove an additional 20,000 cubic yards of soil from the site at 250 Lingan Street. The hearing room was filled to near-capacity, with attendees spilling out into the hallway. About two dozen Halifax residents made public comment at the hearing about concerns over the project and why Morse Brothers should not be granted a permit. Not a single member of the public spoke in favor of granting Morse Brothers a new earth removal permit.
The concerns of the residents centered around public safety, the environment, and the fact that the project did not benefit Halifax. Many residents described the dangers of the project to those who live on Lingan Street, an unpaved road where the water and gas lines lie only about 18″ below the road surface. There were several concerns about a possible gas explosion or water main break from the pressure of the loaded trucks. Many residents were concerned about the safety of their children, many of whom walk or ride their bikes on the road. Several people stated that this project was a detriment to the Town of Halifax, with several acres of deforestation, taking earth from Halifax and moving it to another town, and adding 750 truck trips to their already deteriorating and endangered roads.
Environmental concerns were front and center in the testimony. The site at 250 Lingan Street lies in a Zone II wellhead protection zone for two public water supply wells for the Town of Halifax. See map, below.
Residents noted that the excavation on site had already extended below the water table, which is forbidden by their current permit. One resident asked for an environmental study on the region before any more earth removal permits are issued. One resident stated that one of the public supply wells in Halifax had tested at 15 ppt for PFAS, just below the EPA limit of 20 ppt. He asked the Board to consider what would happen if the wells tested above the EPA limit for PFAS as a result of all of the earth removal in town. Would they have to buy treated water back from Brockton? Residents noted that because of the site’s location within the Zone II of their public water supply wells, this project impacts all of Halifax, not just the abutters.
Questions were raised about whether or not the Board even had the authority to issue this permit. The Board was asked if the Planning Board had issued a special permit for this application, and the Select Board did not have an answer for that. A special permit may be required, because this project does not meet the definition of agriculture under their bylaws. If this earth removal was for agricultural purposes it would simply be re-applied on site. However, the majority of the 20,000 cubic yards of earth under this permit would be taken off-site, presumably to another Morse property in another town; therefore this project does not meet the definition of agriculture. This project instead fell under the definition of bog improvement – which is construction, under their bylaw, and not qualified for an earth removal permit. When asked where the earth was going to after it was removed from the site, again, the Board of Selectmen did not have an answer.
Fifteen residents file lawsuit to stop mining, May 2023
On May 5, 2023, fifteen Halifax residents filed a civil complaint against Morse, Oiva Hannula Cranberry of Carver, and Ryco Excavating, Inc. and its related entity, Ryco Leasing and Repair, Inc. for “engaging in unpermitted earth removal on the property located at 250 Lignan Street, Halifax.”
The complaint is here. The residents asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction to stop the operation until the case goes trial and got resolved. Stopping the operation is necessary to prevent irreparable harm to the environment and residents. The injunction request is here. On June 21, 2023, Superior Court Judge Glenny denied the residents’ motion for an injunction siding with Morse, Hannula and Ryco. The Decision is here.
Morse Brothers opposed the injunction and submitted the affidavit of the company’s controller, Brendan Moquin. It is very revealing: it says if Morse is prevented from sand and gravel mining it would be “catastrophic” to Morse’s business. The company makes elaborate claims about all the earth materials needed to maintain its bogs, but the numbers tell another story. Read more about Morse Brothers Cranberry profits from sand and gravel versus cranberries below.
Town holds meeting, residents speak on mining violations, January 2023
On January 10, 2023, the Halifax Selectboard held a meeting to hear residents concerns and address violations of a December 2022 cease and desist. The public, including members of the Halifax Community for Conservation Efforts, presented clear evidence of the violations/ They described the threat to public safety from Ryco’s truck traffic, drinking water, nearby conservation lands, wetlands, and “outstanding water resources.”
A mother spoke about her fear of the safety of their children from constant sand and gravel trucks traveling through the residential street. Other residents spoke about damage to the Town’s street infrastructure from trucks: culverts in danger of breaking and dangerous road conditions. Residents reported Morse had unlawfully cut the tree buffer along the shore of Monponsett pond.
They explained Morse Brothers has dredged into the aquifer, exposing drinking water to contamination. The mining is within a Zone II Wellhead Protection Area, within Public Supply Watershed, within a Zone A and Zone C Surface Water Protection Area, within an Outstanding Water Resource Area, adjacent to Freshwater Wetlands. It is also adjacent to the Stump Brook Mass Audubon conservation land. Before Morse clear cut and strip mined the 15 acre site it was categorized as Prime Forestland.
At the meeting, Morse Brothers claimed that all the sand gravel removed was going to other bogs they own in Middleborough and Hanson. Residents reported Morse is filling their bogs in Hanson, Middleborough, and at 537 Thompson Street in Halifax with sand 3-4 ft deep. They asked, Why are they filling the bogs with so much sand? Moving earth out of the town without a valid permit, which Morse did not have, is illegal. While Morse attempted to claim an agricultural exemption from the permit requirement, this was not legitimate. Other bogs on the nearby sites are failing due to the high water table.
According to Halifax resident Jeremy Gillespie, “The issue really is, why are they taking the sand out of our water supply protection zones? When they received taxpayer funded grant money from the state for the Middleborough bog project, did they let the state know they’d be taking the sand from these water supply protection zones in another town, whose water supply has been noted as highly susceptible to contamination and abutting the shores of an impaired public water supply lake with an EPA enforceable TMDL?” Read more below about Morse’s taxpayer grants.
After the meeting, the Board of Selectmen referred the matter to Town Counsel.
Below: Local residents and others, many of whom live along the truck route used by the mining operation, brought the illegal operation to the attention of the Halifax Board of Selectmen, who issued the December 29, 2022 cease and desist.
Town issues cease and desist, December 2022
Even though Morse had withdrew the permit application, Morse and Ryco, an excavating contractor from Middleboro, operating in conjunction with Morse Brothers, kept mining.
In December 29, 2022 when the Town Selectboard issued a Cease & Desist Order to Morse Brothers to stop the mining operation after public complaints. The Cease and Desist is below. Morse, Ryco and Hannula kept conducting earth removal anyway and violated the Cease and Desist according to residents and witnesses.
Morse withdraws application to remove 1 million cubic yards, August 2022
In early 2022, Morse filed a permit application with the Town to remove more sand and gravel – 1.1 million cubic yards over 4-5 years from the Lignan Street area. Morse withdrew the application on August 12, 2022 when faced with public opposition. Morse claimed the huge operation was “incidental” to its cranberry operations.
Two of three Selectboard members resign over mining controversy, August 2022
In August, 2022, the controversy and backlash from residents about the illegal mining operation and expansion proposal resulted in the abrupt resignation of two of the Town’s three Selectboard members. The Chair was working for the company doing the excavation and trucking, Ryco Excavating. This was clearly a conflict of interest. The abrupt resignations were the subject of a Boston Globe article that however missed the point about the sand controversy.
Selectboard holds public hearing on Morse’s application for 1,140,000 million cubic yards, June 2022
JUNE 24, 2022 BY KRISTY ZAMAGNI-TWOMEY, EXPRESS CORRESPONDENT
The Halifax Selectmen met in-person on the evening of June 14. There was a public hearing for earth removal for the Morse Brothers’ cranberry property. Selectman Alex Meade said, “I remember most of the residents’ concerns were about the roadway itself and dust control. Since then, we’ve had questions about runoff from the trucks so leaking hydraulics things like that. I don’t know if you plan on putting in some kind of catch basin filters in?” “Certainly, we would be willing to talk about that,” the Morse Brothers representative said.
Meade said he would like to have a clear-cut definition of what the expectations are for the road condition as well as dust control. The spokesman said that the earth removal was necessary because the current layout is not conducive to newer ways of growing cranberries. “The things that we are talking about make sense for cranberry production. If we change the property to the new way, it now becomes a highest and best use for that property… there are good things for the town, there are good things for the grower… at the end of the day, we just want to coexist,” he continued.
They showed maps of the property to the residents present for the hearing and said that they were also available at Mass Mapper under Zone 2. Residents spoke about their concerns including home depreciation and the safety of children. One resident said that they already deal with being inconvenienced in September and October but said that was just part of the cranberry business. He said, however, that this was different and would cause disruption for years. Another resident said that he worries about the environmental impact of the properties surrounding the one in question including walking trails leading into Burrage. Another resident asked that the official abutters list be expanded to include more properties. Someone else expressed concern about the ability of first responders to get through to homes given the heavy truck traffic which was described as sounding like an “earthquake.”
The Selectmen agreed to do a site visit and then revisit the project in early August. “I don’t think we are at a point in this project to vote either way,” Selectmen Chair Ashley DiSesa said. [DiSesa works for Ryco and subsequently resigned from the Board]
Morse applies for an earth removal permit to keep mining — for 1.1 million cubic yards, April 2022
In April 2022, Morse applied to the Halifax Selectboard for a permit to remove 1.14 million cubic yards of sand and gravel to create “cranberry bogs and water supply ponds.” This would entail about 35 truck trips on week days for 5-6 years. It would level the Whaleback esker and mine in the aquifer. The total site disturbance is 67.1 acres.
Town’s report on Morse Brother’s earth removal permit application for 1,140,000 cubic yards on the Whaleback Ridge
Application from Morse Brothers Inc. and Grady Consulting for Earth Removal Permit for 250 Lingan Street
Water, Indigenous site, forests destroyed and more threatened
Below: The Whaleback on the shores of Monponsett Pond. The Whaleback’s hills are about 72 feet will peaks that could be as high as 150 feet. Morse’s sand and gravel mining is targeting the highest hills throughout the Site. It has been studied for its archeological significance to the Indigenous people of the region, the Wampanoag. Much of it has already been destroyed. Here is from the President of the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe.
Cranberry profits v. sand and gravel profits
An analysis of cranberry economics and Morse’s Halifax bogs shows that the proposed mining permit application for 1,140,000 cubic yards has nothing to do with cranberries — and everything to do with sand and gravel profits. Cranberries are not profitable. The price per barrel of cranberries has been in sharp decline over the last decade for a few domestic and international reasons. In comparison, the 1,140,000 million cubic yards of sand and gravel Morse wants to mine from Halifax will generate at least $5 million in profits over the life of the project (about 5 years) — or about $1 million per year. (Currently, a cubic yard of sand and gravel generates about $5-$8 in profits)
Morse’s controller testifies in a sworn affidavit that the Halifax bogs produce about 18,200 barrels of cranberries annually, worth about $820, 000 in annual total revenue. Multiple sources put the cost of production of a barrel of cranberries at $30-35 per barrel. For Morse’s Halifax bogs, the cost of production for 18,200 barrels would be about $546,000 to 637,000. This means cranberries from the Halifax bogs generate about $183,000 and $290,000 in annual profits. The controller testifies that Morse has a contract with Ovia Hannula Cranberry for “management contracts” that requires Morse to pay Hannula about $530,000 per year to manage the Halifax bogs, on the low end of a cost of production. Clearly, the profits from sand and gravel of about $1 million per year for 5 years outweighs cranberry profits even in the best scenario at $290,000. per year.
Morse gets $75,000 in “Cranberry Renovation” grants from state, January 2023
Since 2019, the state’s Cranberry Revitalization Program has given out about$1 million in taxpayer subsidies to the cranberry industry. From 2019 to 2022, Morse received $150,000 under this program, including $75,000 for the fiscal year 2023 while illegally mining in Halifax. According to Environmental Working Group, Morse has received federal agricultural subsidies of $640,663 since the 1990s.
Below: Morse/Ryco sand and gravel mining site, Whaleback Ridge area, Halifax MA, January 2023. This is the “cranberry agriculture” receiving taxpayer funded subsidies.
Mining under the ruse of agriculture to exploit legal exemptions for “farming”
Morse and Ryco Excavating claiming their massive sand and gravel mining is allowed as “incidental” to cranberry agriculture like many other mining operations in the area.
Halifax’s general bylaw prohibits earth removal due to its detrimental effects on water supplies, real estate values and the environment. See, General Bylaw, Chapter 144, “Soil Removal.” It prohibits earth removal on land zoned agricultural or residential unless the project qualifies for a permit. It states: “Section 144-1. Permit required. No soil, sand, gravel or loam removal shall be permitted in any area unless and until a permit has been granted by the Board of Selectmen.” There is a limited exemption for certain projects up to 1,000 cubic yards. To remove more, the landowner has to show the operation is “incidental” to an existing agricultural operation on the land. IF the land is being used agriculturally, the landowner can apply for a permit to remove sand and gravel but it has to be “necessary and incidental” to the agricultural use of the land. To get a permit in 2016 for 50,000 cubic yards and when it applied for the 2022 permit for another 1.1 million cubic yards, Morse claimed the sand mining operation is “necessary” to build a bog and “incidental” to the existing use on the land. Neither is true: Morse cannot show it is necessary to build the bog or that the massive amount is “incidental”.
The Town also has a law prohibiting earth removal within 4 feet of the groundwater. Morse wanted to dig into the groundwater to obtain sand and gravel. The people of Halifax passed a law against this type of mining in a residential agricultural zone. Morse has to play by the rules.
This exact scenario is playing out in Carver. On Nov. 2, 2022 a Ten Residents Group argued for a preliminary injunction to stop 150 acres of strip mining by AD Makepeace Cranberry Co. – removing 7.9 million cubic yards of sand and gravel. Enough to fill Gillette Stadium almost 3/4 of a mile high. The Group argues this is not “agricultural excavation ” under the Supreme Judicial Court case. The Court sided with the cranberry giant A.D. Makepeace. The case is in litigation.
Location of earth removal: 250 Lignan Street, Parcel 29-10. Rectangular angles show area where Morse claims it is going to build bogs. This is a common ruse to extract sand and gravel: site bogs on high hills, level them and often never build the bogs.
To find out more get in touch with Halifax Community for Conservation Efforts