Proposed Law Would Open Beach Access in Massachusetts

It's harder to access the ocean in Massachusetts than any other coastal state in the country, but that could soon change.

2 minute read

September 29, 2021, 10:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


A fence shows a walkway to the beach in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

CO Leong / Shutterstock

"Thanks to a well-meaning ordinance approved by the king of England in the 1600s, modern Massachusetts (as well as Maine, due to the fact that it was once part of Massachusetts) today has what are considered the most restrictive ocean access laws in the country," according to a paywalled article by Billy Baker.  The law was one of the first to fracture the Public Trust Doctrine first expressed in Roman law and passed down through millennia until it came to Massachusetts.

That could change soon, however, after state legislators proposed a new law that hinges on a single word: recreation. Baker explains more:

Under the Massachusetts interpretation of the Public Trust Doctrine, a state law known as Chapter 91, the public can access “private tidelands’’ for only three purposes: “fishing, fowling, and navigation.’’ When it was formalized in 1866, Chapter 91 was meant to protect how the public customarily used the sea.

State Senator Julian Cyr and State Representative Dylan Fernandes are proposing that the Chapter 91 be rewritten to add recreation to the "fishing, fowling, and navigation" protections in Chapter 91, as Baker explains in the article.

Experts and stakeholders on either side of the issue present their case in the remainder of the article. One key consideration in the debate is climate change, and the public assistance some coastal landowners, who might be resistant to the proposed law, will require to deal with the effects of sea-level rise.

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