Mattapoisett landscaping company Yard Boss has listed Mattapoisett Conservation Commission Chairman Bob Rogers and Conservation Agent Elizabeth Leidhold as defendants in a civil lawsuit seeking $250,000 in damages the company says it suffered due to defamatory claims against the company during three separate public meetings of the Conservation Commission.
In the April 14 complaint, Yard Boss acknowledged its use of water withdrawn from various public sources in Mattapoisett, including the Mattapoisett River, but stated it had done nothing illegal and had, in fact, been given the green light to do so ten years ago by an unnamed Conservation Commission member.
Additionally, in 2011, Yard Boss claims the Department of Environmental Protection said, “[T]here is nothing illegal within their jurisdiction regarding siphoning of water from the river.”
The complaint also states that in March 2015, Mattapoisett police reviewed Yard Boss’ withdrawal of water from the riverway and contacted the Massachusetts Environmental Police who told them that they were “not aware of any Mass law prohibiting the removal of water from a river, stream, etc.” Furthermore, the complaint states, the DEP told police that Yard Boss could remove a maximum of 100,000 gallons per 90 consecutive days without a permit, yet the company only withdraws up to 1,000 gallons at a time for hydro-seeding.
Trouble began on September 14, 2015, when Leidhold raised the issue of Yard Boss’ withdrawal of water from the river and the matter was discussed without the prior knowledge of the company.
During the meeting, Leidhold alleged that the Yard Boss truck might not have the proper safeguards installed to prevent backwash into the water, possibly polluting it. Yet, in its complaint, Yard Boss asserts their equipment has been inspected by the Mass Department of Agricultural Resources and deemed in full compliance.
In addition to inaccurate statements about Yard Boss’ activities made by Leidhold, the lawsuit serves to address a number of inflammatory comments Rogers made about Yard Boss, which the company claims has resulted in a loss of business and damage to its reputation.
During a September 28 meeting of the Conservation Commission, Rogers made statements about Yard Boss, such as, “They know they’re not supposed to be doing it,” and “They are shameless,” and later asking, “Can we do stop sticks for their tires?”
Also during that meeting, Rogers acknowledged that the Town could do nothing without a local bylaw in place and stated, “Other than shaming them in the press, we don’t have … any teeth. We don’t have a bylaw.”
All along, asserts Yard Boss, the claims that Yard Boss was doing anything illegal were erroneous, stating in the complaint, “Rogers and Leidhold made false and defamatory statements without doing any due diligence and without consulting easily accessible sources, including DEP, Town Counsel, and/or the Town’s own police department.”
Yard Boss owner Todd Rodrigues attended the November 23 ConCom meeting and defended his actions, arguing against Rogers’ assertion that Yard Boss needed a permit to withdraw the water from the Mattapoisett River. Again, Rogers called Rodrigues’ actions “shameless,” to which Rodrigues responded, “I’ll show you shameless…”
The complaint filed by Yard Boss brings to light email correspondence between Town Administrator Michael Gagne and Rogers in which Gagne informed Rogers “…I feel as an observer is that comments of the Commission members are what I would characterize as inflammatory and character defaming of Yard Boss.” Gagne further stated, “What is troubling is that these [comments] are made before [Rodrigues] has a chance to tell his side of the story and be present to respond.”
Gagne then asked for the commission to draft an apology letter to Yard Boss.
As stated in the complaint, in his email response to Gagne, Rogers replied, “…If circumstances warrant it moving forward I will be more than willing to issue [Rodrigues] a personal apology.”
Selectman Tyler Macallister also sent an email to Rogers in December, stating, “Because you disagree with the DEP does not constitute the right for the Board to supersede them and make regulations, apply conditions or even require that he come before the Board.”
In town counsel’s email to Gagne on December 15, 2015, he stated, “In my opinion, withdrawal of water in and of itself is not regulated under the [Wetlands Protection Act],” and further stated that the town would need to create a bylaw in order to regulate it.
Gagne’s email on December 16 to the Board of Selectmen further confirmed that the Conservation was wrong to get involved in the matter and suggested the commission refrain from further involvement.
“…[I]t would seem to me that an apology is in order to [Rodrigues] for the comments that were made before it was known if the matter was something that should have been appropriately before the Conservation Commission to start with.”
Gagne’s email further stated, “My advice for what it’s worth, the Commission should in the future watch what is said, editorialized, lobbied, and advocated for beyond the Wetlands Protection Act and regulations because of what problems can be created such as this situation.” Gagne said ensuing problems could have been “checked” before expressing personal opinions, and subsequent litigation because of Rogers’ and Leidhold’s false claims against Yard Boss could be costly.
“To date, neither Rogers nor Leidhold have made an apology to Yard Boss or Rodrigues for their defamatory statements,” reads the defamation complaint. “To date, neither Rogers nor Leidhold have made a retraction of their defamatory statements.”
By Jean Perry