PRESS RELEASE: Carver Earth Removal Committee Grants Permits to Expand Sand Mines Over Sole Source Drinking Water Aquifer

  Katherine Harrelson 


February 22, 2024
For Immediate Release

Carver Earth Removal Committee Grants Permits to Expand Sand Mines Over Sole Source Drinking Water Aquifer

Expert hydrologist says AD Makepeace Company’s current mining operations threaten public and private drinking water wells

Local groups say lack of state oversight and no environmental study harms drinking water, climate resilience, future of Southeastern Massachusetts

Meg Sheehan, Community Land & Water Coalition

Tel. 508-591-5522

Mary Dormer, Carver Concerned Citizens

Tel. 718-450-5600

Carver, Massachusetts. On February 21, 2024, the Town of Carver Earth Removal Committee (ERC) approved two commercial mining permits for a total of about 3 million cubic yards of sand and gravel with a market value of about $30 to $40 million. The sand and gravel mining will take place across approximately 40 acres of land in Southeastern Massachusetts. The ERC granted the permits to two companies who claim the mining is for cranberry agriculture, which lets them exploit legal loopholes for legitimate farming operations.  AD Makepeace Cranberry Co. LLC (Makepeace) of Wareham and EJ Pontiff Cranberries Inc. of Duxbury (Pontiff) both obtained permits for about $15 million each in sand and gravel at sites located on Federal Road and at 104 Tremont Street in Carver. The two sites have been mined for decades under the claim of cranberry agriculture. The ERC admitted that Makepeace has not built the promised cranberry bogs at the Federal Road site but approved the mining permit anyway.

The majority of the ERC members are in the sand and gravel, cranberry and trucking industries. Local groups such as Community Land & Water Coalition (CLWC) say this is like the fox watching the hen house and makes objective permit decisions impossible. They say lack of state regulation, and the sand and gravel industry’s ability to use cranberry farming as a reason for mining, has created a silent environmental crisis in Southeastern Massachusetts. The sand and gravel, or aggregate, is used in concrete and many consumer products. There is a global sand shortage, and according to the United Nations, most sand mining is unregulated. The investigative report, Sand Wars in Cranberry Country: the money, politics and corruption behind the silent environmental crisis profiles the two companies issued permits by the ERC: A.D. Makepeace Cranberry Co. and E.J. Pontiff Cranberry of Duxbury MA.

Mary Dormer, a Carver resident and member of Carver Concerned Citizens, said “I was so disappointed in the decisions made by the Carver ERC at their meeting last night. We are a small group of residents trying to protect our water and our community, fighting against these large corporations, whose employees, former employees, contractors and friends are sitting on this very board. It was evident that even before the meeting began the ERC had decided to grant these permits. Literally, ERC member Dick Ward made the exact same comments in support of two different projects, how can that be? At the very least our community needs to come together and demand Boards that aren’t rife with conflicts.”

“This is commercial sand mining, not legitimate cranberry farming,” said Meg Sheehan an attorney with CLWC. “The public is pulling back the curtain on how the sand mining industry has been getting away with this for decades. There are few hills left and the sand wars between those who want to protect our water, communities and environmental heritage and the companies trying to exploit the last deposits of sand are real.” The hearing room at Carver Town Hall was filled with an overflow crowd and the ERC called in a police detail and announced people could be ejected from the hearing if he decided.

Groups say state’s largest landowner, A.D. Makepeace Cranberry Co., exploits legal loopholes to carry out mining under the ruse of agriculture.

Makepeace is Massachusetts third largest landowner and claims to be the world’s largest cranberry grower. The company is headquartered in Wareham and it owns at least 7,000 acres of land in the region, some with cranberries but also hills of valuable sand and gravel deposits where it is mining, like a 200 acre site in Plymouth. Makepeace’s subsidiary Read Custom Soils is reported to be the largest aggregate mining and distribution center in the Northeast. Read brags it is located in the “heart of its endless supply” of sand. Read and Makepeace conduct mining operations throughout the 7,000 acre area, often without permits, such as in Wareham where it has mined millions of cubic yards with no permits.

Makepeace is also developing the Red Brook housing project in south Plymouth, embroiled in controversy. The new permit issued last night on February 22, 2024, is for a site in the heart of Makepeace’s 2 square mile mining operation on Federal Road abutting Plymouth, Wareham and the Wankinko and Weweantic Rivers.

At last night’s ERC public hearing, former Carver Selectboard and Planning Board member Jen Bogart, who lives next to the  Makepeace mining site, questioned why the bogs had not been built and referred to the company’s reports to Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) in 2012 and 2022. Bogart explained the state reviewed the mining site as “Phase C-1” of the Tihonet Mixed Use Development (TMUD) build out plan for its 6,500 acres. According to CLWC, Makepeace has done a “bait and switch” from what it promised the public would be a model “smart growth and open space” across the 6,500 acres.

Attorney Meg Sheehan from CLWC told the ERC that Makepeace’s claims that the sand mining is for use on cranberry bogs do not add up. “Makepeace has mined enough sand at its central mining site on Federal Road to fill Gillette Stadium ¾ of a mile high. In south Plymouth, Makepeace is mining at a 200 acre site that is the largest sand mine ever permitted in the history of the state,” Sheehan told the ERC. 

Mining threatens drinking water says world renown hydrologist Scott W. Horsley

Two experts have studied the impact of sand mining in Carver on drinking water, according to CLWC. In 2022, world renowned hydrologist Scott Horsley, who teaches at Harvard University, gave his opinion that Makepeace’s earth removal at the Federal Road sites “threatens public and private drinking water supplies by removing protective topsoils and reducing the depth to groundwater, both of which significantly reduce the pollutant attenuation capacity within the recharge areas to the drinking water supplies.” In 2023, engineer Gary James reported that a mining site on Meadow Street threatens to increase water pollution, contributing to conditions such as cyanobacteria outbreaks.

Pontiff involved in many mining operations in the region, according to local group

The ERC approved a permit for E.J. Pontiff to mine 1.4 million cubic yards of sand and gravel, worth about $15 million in sand at 104 Tremont Street in Carver and an approximately 900-acre Federal Furnace Cranberry site abutting Myles Standish State Forest. The CLWC Sand Wars report documents that the ERC granted permits in 2006, 2008, 2015, and 2019 for 102 acres of mining on the site. According to an enforcement request filed with the MassDEP, the mining operations were conducted by Gary Weston, G. Lopes Construction of Taunton, for the landowner. Last night the ERC approved an expansion of the mining for another 17 acres of pristine uplands Pine Barrens forest. The state’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) claims the commercial mining is cranberry agriculture and issued a take permit (meaning the project is allowed to kill members of the species) for the federally endangered Northern Cooter, known locally as the Plymouth Red Bellied Turtle. 

CLWC’s Sand Wars report states Pontiff just finished a mining operation of up to 1 million cubic yards in rare species habitat on Firehouse Road in Plymouth under the claim of cranberry agriculture. The report asserts Pontiff mined under the name of Meharg/Black Cat Cranberry off Rocky Pond Road in Plymouth since about 2008, mining out at least 1 million cubic yards in the aquifer protection zone for the Town’s Great South Pond well. 

CLWC is calling for a moratorium on sand mining until the environmental damage of past mining is assessed and the public can be assured its drinking water is safe.

More information:
February 21, 2024 Carver ERC Hearing

Sand Wars in Cranberry Country and 10 minute video

Community Land and Water Coalition website

Petition for a Moratorium on Sand Mining in Southeastern Massachusetts

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