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Barnstable residents file lawsuit to protect retired Centerville cranberry bog

Yuki A. Honjo
Workers harvest cranberries in East Falmouth, Mass. File photo.

Some 20 Centerville homeowners have filed a lawsuit in Barnstable Superior Court in an attempt to preserve an old cranberry bog as open space.

The Town of Barnstable, the new bog owner, and the former owners — the Jenkins family trust — are named as defendants in the argument filed in the court in mid July.

A Boston developer purchased the 20-acre Bumps River Road Bogs for $450,000 in July of last year, according to Barnstable County registry of deeds.

Bog Partners LLC is listed as the buyer, and Boston real-estate investor Sam Slater is listed in court records as the owner of Bog Partners. He has permission to build a chain-link fence around the property, raising concerns the public won't be able to walk the bog.

Neighbors to the bog had protested the construction of the fence during local conservation commission hearings; after an appeal, state regulators approved the construction of the fence.

A spokesperson for the town of Barnstable said that the town has no comment, with the case under litigation. An attempt by CAI to reach Slater was unsuccessful; and an attorney representing the Centerville plaintiffs, Matthew Dupuy, did not respond for a request for comment. Dupuy is also a plaintiff in the case.

The Centerville residents in the lawsuit filing charge that the purchase was not done according to state agriculture laws; they say the town should be have been given a fair chance to buy the property first.

The Jenkins bog was farmed for decades and is considered agricultural land.

Before the sale of agricultural land, the owners are required to give the town first-refusal rights. If there's an interest in purchasing the property, they can match the funds. That's according to the Farmland Assessment Act, under a section known as 61A.

While the owners did give the town manager first-refusal rights, the plaintiffs argue that other town officials — including the town council — were not offered first refusal.

Meanwhile, the Barnstable Land Trust says it has interest in, and the funds to preserve the bog as open space. The Trust wrote a letter to the town in May saying that it would match the $450,000 for the property, if the property were made available. The Trust also said that one possibility is restoring the bog back to natural wetlands, which could help the town's nitrogen problem.

A project under permitting by the Harwich Conservation Trust has been seen as a possible tool to reduce nitrogen in a local estuary, which could save taxpayers some $6 million in sewer infrastructure. There have also been successful attempts to return cranberry bogs to wetlands in Plymouth and Falmouth, including the Coonemessett River restoration project and the Childs River project, both in Falmouth.

The superior court filing requests that no alterations, including the addition of the fence, be made while a judge reviews the argument.

Editor's note: This story has been edited slightly from the original posting for clarity.

Sam Houghton left CAI in February, 2023, to become News Editor at the Martha's Vineyard Times.
He worked at CAI since the summer of 2017. Before that, he worked at the Falmouth Enterprise, where he covered local politics.