Conservation Law Foundation, Wychmere Beach Club Reach Settlement

By: William F. Galvin

The Wychmere Beach Club is perched at the entrance of the embayment along Wychmere Harbor channel. FILE PHOTO

HARWICH — The Conservation Law Foundation and the Wychmere Beach Club have agreed to a proposed settlement of a lawsuit filed by CLF alleging that the resort was illegally discharging pollution into marine waters.

The settlement would result in reduced pollution, new efforts to address nitrogen sources and protect the Wychmere Harbor Watershed, according to a press release from CLF. It follows a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that forbid polluters from dumping waste into navigable streams, rivers and coastal waters without a permit, even if the pollution reaches those waters through groundwater.

CLF filed two lawsuits in 2019 charging both Wychmere and Wequassett Resort and Golf Club with illegally discharging pollution impairing marine waters.

“Nitrogen pollution is wreaking havoc on the Cape’s bays, beaches and economy,” Christopher Kilian, vice president of strategic litigation at CLF, said in a statement. “These waters belong to all of us, and large properties must do their part to protect these precious resources. The proposed settlement will lead to a cleaner Wychmere Harbor and we’re happy to be working together with the resort to reach that goal.”

Wequassett Resort settled its lawsuit in October 2019, agreeing to take steps to reduce nitrogen discharging into Pleasant Bay and to monitor and report progress in reducing pollution over the next five years. Wequassett resort also made a financial contribution to the Friends of Pleasant Bay to assist in the purchase of Sipson Island in Pleasant Bay.

“I have rarely seen a property owner as constructive and solution-oriented in their response as Wequassett,” CLF President Brad Campbell said of Wequassett’s actions at the time.

In January 2019, Massachusetts District federal court Judge William Young denied a motion by the Wychmere Beach Club to dismiss the CLF suit. The suit asserted that a discharge from a point source to the navigable waters was covered under the Clean Water Act. Such pollution traveling via groundwater that has direct hydrologic connection to surface water requires a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit, the suit claimed. In April the U.S. Supreme Court issued a major ruling on the Clean Water Act in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, which made claims similar to the CLF suit.

“The ruling has direct implications for CLF’s work to hold polluters accountable on Cape Cod,” CLF spokesperson Jake O’Neill told The Chronicle. “Our lawsuits against Wequassett and Wychmere have focused on nitrogen pollution that is discharged from the resorts’ wastewater systems into groundwater, which then flows into nearby harbors. We have argued that such discharges through groundwater should be subject to the Clean Water Act and the recent decision backed up that position.”

Wychmere Beach Club will contribute financially toward environmental projects implemented by the Association to Preserve Cape Cod that promote the reduction of pollution in and around Wychmere Harbor, according to the CLF release. APCC recently issued a report that found two-thirds of Cape Cod bays and one-third of ponds are suffering from nutrient pollution.

“We look forward to implementing projects that will address nitrogen problems in Wychmere Harbor as a result of this settlement,” said Andrew Gottlieb, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod. “Wychmere Harbor is an example of the all-too-common problem afflicting the Cape’s estuaries.”

O’Neill said in an email on Thursday that the settlement was filed jointly with Wychmere, with both parties agreeing to the terms. Court approval is required to finalize the agreement.