A South Dartmouth family and Massachusetts state agencies are battling over a property and habitat protection dispute.
According to the Massucco family, their lives have been a nightmare since they cleared some trees on their property on Allens Neck Road in 2017.
“We moved in and cleared some trees on our property to create paddock space for the horses. We had plans to replant many trees (we since have done so.) Very soon after, we were told our entire property was a “priority habitat” for (non-endangered) marbled salamanders. We didn’t think it was a big deal as the conservation committee did not know this information, the realtor did not know this and the closing attorney did not know. We were not building anything- just clearing space for the horses with the intent to replant many trees. We were contacted by a few state agencies and quickly realized we had a big problem on our hands.”
The family says since then, their lives have been hell.
“Since 2017, the office of the Massachusetts Attorney General (AG), Maura Healey, and her assistant Matthew Ireland have made our lives a living hell. We have hired lawyer after lawyer, expert after expert trying to figure out how to get out of this mess. We have tried to discuss options with Maura Healey’s office. They wanted to take hundreds of thousands of dollars from us, to ‘remedy’ the situation. They also wanted to take several acres of our land so that we cannot ever use it, especially for the purpose of what we needed it for, horse space. They have called us criminals. For taking “priority habitat” of a salamander.”
The Massucco’s believe that they are being sued for millions of dollars.
“The AG’s office served us with court papers one week before Christmas 2020. We are officially being sued by the state. The state is suing us for $42,000,000, plus $30,000 each day until this is resolved.”
We contacted the Attorney General’s Office to get their version of the case involving the Massucco family.
The Office has stated that their complaint does not request any specific civil penalty amount for the alleged violations, and instead states the statutory penalty standard for violations, as they do in all complaints.
The AG’s Office and the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, who the AG is representing as enforcement counsel, have made persistent efforts to resolve this case without litigation for years, according to a spokesperson.
The relief that the Office is seeking includes both habitat restoration and civil penalties for multiple alleged violations of the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act and a violation of the Wetlands Protection Act, and for violations of the regulations accompanying these statutes.
According to the complaint, Massucco’s property has been continuously mapped by the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife as marbled salamander Priority Habitat since 1995 in an atlas and maps published online and provided to all local conservation commissions and planning boards.
The complaint states that on or about October 22, 2017, Robert Massucco filed a Notice of Intent for a proposed project with the Dartmouth Conservation Commission. In the Notice of Intent, Massucco proposed to clear nearly three acres of upland forest on the property to create a grazing pasture for horses. As proposed, portions of the cleared uplands were in the 100-foot buffer zone around bordering vegetative wetlands on the Site protected under the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act.
Massucco sent a letter on December 2, 2017, to the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife concerning a proposed project that involved clearing a total of approximately 6.5 acres of forested upland on his property in three separate areas, including a more than 2.5 acre area behind his residence that he had already cleared without waiting for the Division to conduct the required review.
The complaint also states that Massucco was informed that the land clearing had caused direct harm to individual marbled salamanders, but he could return to compliance with MESA by submitting a plan for approval to restore the more than 2.5 acres of forested upland
marbled salamander habitat he had cleared in addition to being able to apply for a conservation and management permit for the land he had already clear cut and any other planned clearing or disturbance of upland marbled salamander habitat on the property.
Massucco reportedly broke off all communication with the Division in mid-January 2018 instead of continuing discussions with the Division or applying for a conservation and management permit to return to compliance.
The full complaint is below and what the result will be is anyone’s guess.Massucco Complaint_final_9.17.20_as filed