Cranberry Country Corruption, General, Sand mining in Southeastern Massachusetts

Halifax: Morse Brothers Cranberry & Ryco Excavating mining operation continues under the ruse of agriculture, obtains Mass. Dept. Agriculture/USDA subsidies for “bog renovation”

December 29, 2023: Halifax Board of Selectmen issues cease and desist

Hearing January 10, 2023: residents explain violations, threat to drinking water wells, Monponsett Pond water quality, Indigenous cultural site, wildlife

December 29, 2022: Cease & Desist Order to Morse Brothers, Inc. for illegal mining operation

After conflicts of interest, Selectboard members resigned — former Chair works for Ryco

Get in touch with Halifax Community for Conservation Efforts

Ongoing efforts by a grassroots campaign in Town of Halifax have led to a temporary stop to the illegal sand and gravel mining by Morse Brothers, Inc. at its land on Lingan Street, on the Whaleback ridge on Monponsett Pond in Halifax. 

On December 29, 2022, the Halifax Board of Selectmen issued a Cease and Desist order to Morse for illegal earth removal operations at 250 Lignan Street on the shores of Monponsett Pond. Morse owns about 400 acres of cranberry bogs in Massachusetts.

On January 10, 2023, the Board held a meeting where the company tried to defend the illegal operation.

For over a decade, Morse and excavation companies they contract with have removed tens of thousands of cubic yards of sand and gravel from the Site.

 In early 2022, Morse, which has more deposits of valuable sand and gravel on the uplands surrounding its bogs including The Whaleback ridge, filed a permit application with the Town to remove more sand and gravel – 1.1 million cubic yards over 4-5 years. Morse withdrew the application on August 12, 2022, when the grassroots group exposed Morse’s attempt to evade the Bylaw’s ban on earth removal. Morse claimed the huge operation was “incidental” to its cranberry operations. This is a scam being used by cranberry land owners throughout Southeastern MA.

Even though they withdrew the permit application, Morse and Ryco, an excavating contractor from Middleboro, operating in conjunction with Morse Brothers, kept mining.

Trucks continued to roll out of the site between August and December, 2022.

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.

At the meeting on January 10, members of the public, including members of the Halifax Community for Conservation Efforts, presented clear evidence of the violations to the Board of Selectmen. They described the threat to drinking water, proximity to conservation land, wetlands, and “outstanding water resources.” 

Residents voiced numerous concerns about what the illicit sand and gravel removal was doing to their community. They testified in regard to safety issues from all of the truck traffic emanating from the site out into a residential neighborhood; one person spoke in regard to fear of the safety of their children from all of the big rig trucks on their residential street. Other residents spoke about damage to the Town’s infrastructure from all the truck traffic; older culverts underneath the street were in danger of breaking, and the road conditions under the truck traffic were worsening. Additionally, the developer had also not maintained the proper setbacks and tree buffer from the Monponsett Pond when they did tree clearing.

However, the biggest issue is the threat to drinking water and the environment. Morse Brothers have dug down into the aquifer, exposing our drinking water to contamination. They have also removed thousands of cubic yards of silica sand from the aquifer, which filters and protects this vulnerable resource. Morse’s site lies 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, adjacent to the Stump Brook Mass Audubon conservation land, and was considered Prime Forestland before they cut down all the trees.

Also at risk is the Whaleback, a forested glacial esker. This are has archeological significance and has been studied for its role in Native American Indigenous cultural significance.

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.

Also at risk is the water quality of Monponsett Pond, into which all of the surface water and groundwater from the site flows. At the Board of Selectmen hearing, Morse’s representative stated they will not cut down any more trees.

At the meeting, Morse Brothers claimed that all of the gravel removed was going to two of their other bogs in Middleborough and Hanson. However, this is illegal under the Halifax bylaw (see below), because developers cannot remove earth from a site without an earth removal permit. Also, this site is claiming an agricultural exemption, yet there is no indication that a bog will be built. Other bogs on the nearby sites are failing due to the high water table. The Board of Selectmen referred the matter to Town Council.

According to citizens, Morse Brothers is filling their bogs in Hanson, Middleborough, and at 537 Thompson Street in Halifax with sand 3-4 ft deep.  Why are they filling the bogs with so much sand?

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?”

Mr. Gillespie along with other residents and members of the citizens’ campaign presented clear evidence on January 10th of how this sand and gravel mining operation was negatively impacting their health, safety, and welfare, and threatening the environment and drinking water of Halifax and the surrounding communities. Now it is up to the Halifax Board of Selectmen to put a stop to the excavation once and for all. The best thing for Halifax residents would be for Halifax to order Morse Brothers to cease operating at the Site and restore the Site to its previous condition.

Morse grabs $75,000 in “Cranberry Renovation” taxpayer subsidies in January 2023 while strip mining and destroying the Aquifer.

In January 2023, the Baker Administration gave out $1 million in taxpayer subsidies to the cranberry industry to “renovate” bogs. This is part of the elaborate hoax the cranberry industry engages in. There is no market for cranberries and the industry has been in an economic downturn since the 2000s. Yet to cover up their sand and gravel mining they claim new bogs are necessary. Some of the cranberry growers on the grant list are some of the biggest strip mine operators in the state and include Federal Furnace Cranberry and North Weston Cranberry in Carver.

Below: Morse/Ryco sand and gravel mining, January 2023, Halifax MA

Why is MassDEP refusing to protect our environment, drinking water and Monponsett Pond from illegal sand mining?

The law: Morse claims false “cranberry agriculture” to evade law against sand and gravel mining

Morse and Ryco Excavating claiming their massive sand and gravel mining is allowed as “incidental” to a cranberry bog. This is a scam. This scam is happening across Southeastern Massachusetts. These mines are illegal and not entitled to the exemption for “agriculture” that they claim.

Like many towns, Halifax has a general bylaw that prohibits earth removal due to its detrimental effects on water supplies, real estate values and the environment. Halifax has General Bylaw, Chapter 144, “Soil Removal.” It prohibits earth removal on land zoned agricultural or residential unless the project qualifies for a permit.

Bylaw: 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. That is what Morse is claiming: 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.

In Halifax, Morse tried to evade the bylaw that prohibits using his land for an industrial-commercial mining/sand and gravel operation by saying the removal was necessary for his agricultural project – cranberry bogs. This proposal was for 1.15 million cubic yards – double what the state’s courts have held was a ruse. Under the court cases, this project was in reality a prohibited mining operation. This ruse has been rejected time and again by the state’s courts. And 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.

Halifax Plympton Express:

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.

Town’s peer review of Morse Bros. earth removal proposal:

Application from Morse Brothers Inc and Grady Consulting for Earth Removal Permit for 250 Lingan Street

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.