Mass. developer paying $200K over timber harvesting

Bryan Cohen Dec. 7, 2011, 2:00am


BOSTON (Legal Newsline) - Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley announced a $200,000 order against a Leominster-based developer for alleged wetlands and timber harvesting violations.

Developer James L. Xarras, property owners N.M.J. Realty Trust and Learned Hand Realty Trust and trustees Margot Xarras and Debra Delaney allegedly illegally hired timber harvesters to clear cut 100 acres of the Crown Point residential subdivision, which caused the illegal alteration of bordering protected stream banks, vegetated wetlands and 15 acres of the buffer zone to those protected resources.

By order of the Suffolk Superior Court, the defendants must pay a $200,000 civil penalty for alleged violations of the Forest Cutting Practices Act, the Wetlands Protection Act and the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act. The defendants are also required to restore the property in accordance with law and the directives of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

"The permitting process is in place to ensure that our wetlands are preserved and that these projects are supervised," Coakley said. "This developer, who has been sued by our office before for other environmental violations, flagrantly ignored the law and should be held accountable."

The environmentally damaged site is a 235-acre parcel in Leominster owned by Learned Hand Realty Trust and the N.M.J. Realty Trust on which the developers, led by Xarras, proposed to build a 251-lot subdivision called Crown Point. As the court found in its order, Xarras, without seeking and obtaining the requisite approvals and permits from MassDEP, the Leominster Conservation Commission or the Department of Conservation and Recreation, allegedly hired timber harvesters to clear cut approximately 100 acres of the site.

The clear cut caused the illegal alteration of approximately 1,500 linear feet of stream banks, 2.5 acres of bordering vegetated wetlands and 15 acres of the 100-foot-wide buffer zone to the protected resources. In addition, the court order said that the site has yet to be restored to its pre-alteration condition but must be in accordance with all of the applicable regulations and statutes and directives of MassDEP.

In its order, the court focused on the magnitude of the harm caused by the defendants' actions, calling it significant, and concluded that the "harm is magnified if the violators are permitted to act" in utter disregard of the law. The court specifically pointed to other Superior Court cases where the Xarras defendants were found liable for similar environmental violations on other Massachusetts sites, reflecting that these provided "further evidence of Xarras' callous disregard of the law as it applies to his development activity." Based on its conclusions, the court levied the $200,000 penalty.

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