ROWLEY—Down a gravel access road in the northwest side of town, a pump house churns out water for this rural community 30 miles north of Boston.
But late last year, investigators discovered a grisly scene: evidence that several deer had been slaughtered at the pump house, and their carcasses and organs flung about the swampy woods abutting the Georgetown Rowley State Forest, a popular spot for deer hunting.
The investigation led them to two town workers, who admitted to butchering the deer near the well that is a major source of public drinking water, state environmental police said.
The state Department of Environmental Protection has fined the town of Rowley $25,875 because the water supply was endangered. The two employees, Jason Masse, 31, and Jason Kneeland, 35, resigned their jobs as foremen in the Rowley water department on March 13. The men are facing multiple charges of violating state gaming laws, according the clerk’s office at Newburyport District Court.
Water testing ordered by the state DEP turned up no sign of e-coli, and only a slight level of coliform, according to the DEP. Still, word of the slaughter has stunned the town of Rowley, where townspeople were enjoying one of the first palpable days of spring Friday.
Kids tossed a football on the town common. People shopped for Easter Candy at the Rowley Pharamacy. And Phil Light shook his head, as he sat in a lawn chair in front of his home on Main Street.
“I’m not a hunter,” said Light, 62, stringing new line on his fishing rod ahead of trout season. “But, I tell you, a lot of people are.”
“What were they thinking?” he asked. “What they did could be very dangerous for the water supply.”
On Boxford Road, Jill Pais, 65, was out for an early afternoon walk. She said she had heard of the butchering “through the grapevine,” and wondered what it meant for public health.
“What if one of the deer had Lyme Disease,” said Pais, who said she is a retired nurse from Lahey Clinic.
State environmental police started to investigate, after another hunter reported seeing the deer carcasses at the town pump house, the report states.
Hanging rope and a pulley were found attached to two buildings on the site. Ropes and a pulley were also found inside the pump house. Dark red blood stains was splattered on inside and outside walls on the afternoon of Dec. 2, according to a police report.
Carcasses were found lying inside and outside a fence surrounding the pump house, located at the end of a gravelly road. The carcasses did not have metal tags to indicate they were legally hunted, the report states.
A “gut pile,” of the deers’ lungs and intestines were found nearby, along with blood and flesh, the report states. Deer heart and other organs were found in a bloodied cardboard box affixed with an address label with “Jason Masse, Town of Rowley” printed on it, according to the police report, which was provided to the Globe by the state Executive Office of Energy and the Environmental Affairs.
Masse and Kneeland have not been arrested. But they will be summonsed to Newburyport District Court on April 23. Each will be arraigned on three counts, each, of violating state deer tag laws, according to the clerk’s office at the court.
Kneeland did not return a call from the Globe seeking comment. Masse could not be reached by telephone. Officials at the Rowley water department, including Superintendent John Rezza, who assisted police with the investigation, and the town’s three water commissioners, did not return calls seeking comment.
In an interview with police on Dec. 7, Kneeland said “he and Jason Masse had butchered the deer during the first week of shotgun season,” Nov. 26-Dec. 1, the report states.
But Kneeland stated that they did not kill the deer, but agreed to dress three deer for a Georgetown hunter they knew only by the name of “Robert,” the police report states.
Kneeland told police he had been butchering deer for local hunters for years, and was teaching Masse how to do it, the report states. Kneeland and Masse met the Georgetown hunter in the parking lot of a country store, not far from the pump station, to take possession of three deer on two separate occasions, according to the report.
Kneeland told police he believed the deer were legally harvested, because they were marked with metal bands, as required by law. Three deer were butchered for a payment of $40 per deer, the report states.
Kneeland also told police “that he didn’t want other Town (sic) employees to know that he was making money butchering deer and that he had told other employees that he had shot the deer,” the report states.
Deborah Eagan, the Rowley town administrator, said she notified the DEP, after being notified police on Feb. 7 of its investigation at the pump station.
“When I obtained copies of the charges that were filed by the environmental police, I was very concerned, and immediately got in touch with the state,” she said.
DEP immediately ordered water testing, and ordered that the well be shut off. They also ordered that the town hire a professional cleaning company to clean the pump house, according to the DEP fine order.
A top Rowley official called the butchering incident “atrocious’’ and has called for immediate reform of the water department. “The Board of Selectmen is not going to let this go by the wayside,” said Bob Snow, the board chairman, who previously has questioned capital spending in the department.
After a hearing was held on March 21 in DEP’s Wilmington office, the agency fined Rowley $25,875 in part, for failing to protect the town’s water drinking water supply, and for not reporting the incident to the state within two hours after finding out about a possible contamination, as required by law.
The DEP agreed to suspend $10,000 of the fine, so long as the town complies with the order. The town must review its emergency response operations, file a report on remediation steps, and officially notify water customers of the incident.
“Certainly, we take the consent order seriously,” Eagan said.