Agreements Protect Southeastern Watershed (MA)

LAKEVILLE, Massachusetts, 7/1/02: After nearly a year of effort, a coalition of nonprofits and government agencies announced today the permanent protection of the 480-acre Betty’s Neck property on Long Point Road in Lakeville and, in related agreements, the permanent protection of nearly 3,500 acres of municipal watershed land in Lakeville, Middleboro, Rochester, Freetown, New Bedford, Dartmouth, and Acushnet.

With more than 2.5 miles of waterfront on Assawompsett Pond, the largest natural body of fresh water in Massachusetts, Betty’s Neck has long been one of the region’s top conservation priorities. The Assawompsett Pond Complex, which also includes Pocksha, Great Quittacas, Little Quittacas, and Long Ponds, is New Bedford’s and Taunton’s sole source of drinking water. It also supplies drinking water to several other communities in the region, supports the largest Alewife fishery in the state, and provides habitat for several rare species of wildlife.

The majority of funding was provided by the Department of Environmental Protection’s Aquifer Land Acquisition Program, which made a $6.55 million grant for the purchase and to cover associated costs. As a condition of the grants the Commonwealth received a conservation restriction over Betty’s Neck, as well as conservation restrictions over more than 3,100 acres of watershed land owned by the City of New Bedford and roughly 340 acres of watershed land owned by the City of Taunton.

The restrictions were deeded by New Bedford and Taunton pending the legislative approval required under Massachusetts law for municipalities to transfer interest in conservation land. A bill filed recently by state Senators Marc Pacheco and Joan Menard will provide this legislative authority. Its approval is expected by the end of the current legislative session on July 31, 2002. The restrictions, which will be held jointly by the Department of Environmental Management and the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, will permanently prohibit development and guarantee public access for low-impact recreation.

Following successful Town Meeting and debt exclusion votes last May, the Town of Lakeville committed $1.1 million towards the purchase of Betty’s Neck from the Decas family. The City of New Bedford also contributed $600,000 towards the Betty’s Neck purchase, in addition to deeding a conservation restriction over its watershed land to the Commonwealth.

The City of Taunton also hopes to contribute $600,000 and voted last Tuesday to apply for funding from the Statewide Revolving Fund for that purpose. Decisions on funding awards are anticipated by January 2003.

Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous Boston-based foundation, the Trust for Public Land (TPL) contributed $250,000 to the project. TPL also negotiated the purchase agreement with the Decas family and helped facilitate discussions between the three communities.

Using the pooled state, municipal, and private funds, the Town of Lakeville acquired 292 acres on Betty’s Neck and a conservation restriction over an adjacent 150 acres from the Decas family for $8.4 million. The remaining 38 acres were purchased for $600,000 by the Trust for Public Land, which will hold the land temporarily while Taunton seeks state funding. Once Taunton’s funding is in place, TPL will deed the land to Lakeville and donate a conservation restriction to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving land for people to enjoy as parks and open space. Since 1972, TPL has protected more than 1.4 million acres nationwide, including nearly 100,000 acres in New England. For more information, visit ###

Statements by Coalition Members and Partners

“This acquisition protects a drinking water supply, provides public access and preserves for all time sensitive plant and animal habitat in one of the fastest growing areas of the state,” said Bob Durand, Secretary of Environmental Affairs. “I want to thank the many partners in this endeavor, the legislative delegation, our agencies, the municipalities, and the land trusts that have made this all possible.”

“The Decas family is grateful and finds it most satisfying that the Betty’s Neck peninsula will be protected forever and kept in its natural state as we have maintained it for over 50 years,” said John C. Decas, president of Decas Cranberry Products, Inc. “Our deep appreciation goes to the mayors and other city officials of New Bedford and Taunton, to Secretary Robert Durand of the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, to the Trust for Public Land for their participation, and above all, to the Selectmen and citizens of the Town of Lakeville for their role in making this effort a success.”

“This project is a wonderful example of regional cooperation that we hope will be a model for the rest of the state,” said Chawner Hurd, chairman of the Lakeville Board of Selectmen. “Conserving this land will bring tremendous benefits to Lakeville and surrounding communities, including the protection of rare species habitat, drinking water quality, and scenic beauty. It will also help Lakeville manage growth over the coming years. We cannot give enough thanks to all those involved and hope that the relationships formed between Lakeville, New Bedford, Taunton and the State as a result of this project will carry far into the future.”

“The purchase of Betty’s Neck affords the City of New Bedford the opportunity to protect the watershed of one of the largest aquifers in the state in a fashion that has not been possible since the late 1800’s,” said New Bedford Mayor Frederick Kalisz, Jr. “This is an investment in the future health of the citizens of New Bedford and the region. I’d like to thank the other communities, the Commonwealth and Secretary Durand, the New Bedford City Council, and the New Bedford Water Board for their cooperation in this important endeavor.”

“I’d like to thank the Town of Lakeville, City of New Bedford, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the Trust for Public Land for making this conservation effort a priority,” said Taunton Mayor Thaddeus Strojny. “The cooperation that resulted in preserving Betty’s Neck and the quality of our drinking water is truly a model of how government can and should work for our citizens.”

“Jutting into the waters of Assawompsett Pond, Betty’s Neck provides one of the most stunning landscapes in southeastern Massachusetts and includes two globally rare natural communities,” said Whitney Hatch, regional director for the Trust for Public Land. “We are delighted to have been a partner in the effort to protect this property and roughly 3,500 acres of watershed land in the surrounding region. The conservation of this land will go a long way towards safeguarding both drinking water for southeastern Massachusetts and habitat for bald eagles and other rare wildlife.”

Statements by State Elected Officials

Senate Ways and Means Chairman, Senator Mark Montigny (D-Bristol), applauded the agreement that will protect almost 4,000 acres of South Coast land. He cited Secretary Durand and a coalition of state and local governments, The Trust for Public Land, and the Decas family as a perfect example of a successful public/private collaboration. “The state funded Aquifer Land Acquisition Program has proven to be a very successful tool in conserving environmentally sensitive lands,” said Senator Montigny. “The use of these funds to protect New Bedford’s water supply is a testament to the state’s continued commitment to the environmental conservation and protection of the South Coast.”

“The acquisition of Betty’s Neck is needed to protect the quality of our precious water and to preserve the biodiversity of our ecosystem,” said Sen. Marc Pacheco (D-Plymouth and Bristol). “I am pleased to work with Secretary Durand and the southeastern Massachusetts legislative delegation to ensure that the citizens of the region have clean, healthy drinking water and that this land is protected from future growth and development.”

“I am so pleased to be a part of this coalition, preserving and protecting this vital ecosystem,” said Senator Joan M. Menard (D-Bristol). “By safeguarding the Betty’s Neck property against any future development, we can ensure that the ecosystem in the area will continue to thrive unimpeded, while also protecting drinking water reserves and enabling passive recreation in the area to continue.”

“The Betty’s Neck project was an undertaking by many dedicated people who had a vision to preserve this property as open space and provide additional protection for the public drinking water supply,” said Rep. Robert Koczera (D-Acushnet, Freetown, New Bedford, Lakeville). “The benefit of such protection and preservation accrues not only to the present generation, but to succeeding generations. We are fortunate to have been able to take this opportunity to invest in our future.”

“This project is a result of very proactive participation by both city and state government to protect this watershed land,” said Rep. Phil Travis (D-Rehobeth, Seekonk, Swansea, Taunton). “It has been utmost on my list of priorities and I would like to commend Secretary Bob Durand for his support of the project.”

“This project is another piece in the puzzle in the collaborative effort to preserve open space in the Town of Lakeville. The partnership between the Town of Lakeville and the Cities of New Bedford and Taunton and the Commonwealth is a unique relationship which has helped this project become a reality,” said Rep. John Quinn (D-Berkley, Dartmouth, Freetown, Lakeville). “For me, it has been a project that has involved all three levels of my political involvement—as state rep for the town, as a city councilor in New Bedford, and as vice chairman of the New Bedford Water Board. It is gratifying that the project has moved so fast,” said Rep. George Rogers (D-New Bedford).

“This is an important project, not only for the communities of southeastern Massachusetts, but for the entire Commonwealth. Here we have preserved and protected a very sensitive ecosystem for generations to enjoy and appreciate,” said Rep. Patricia A. Haddad (D-Dighton, Somerset, Swansea, Taunton).

“It’s a great acquisition for all citizens of the region, not only for the preservation of open land but also for the heritage of all citizens of the Commonwealth,” said Rep. James Fagan (D-Taunton).

“It is very crucial that we protect, preserve, and conserve our most precious natural resources and open space like Betty’s Neck. This proposal does just that for New Bedford and the other communities,” said Rep. Antonio Cabral (D-New Bedford).