BOSTON -- The state's highest court today said it was unable to offer a conclusive opinion to the Senate on whether property rights and ocean erosion legislation pending on Beacon Hill complies with the state Declaration of Rights and the U.S. Constitution.
I am writing to you as President of the Massachusetts Association of Land Surveyors and Civil Engineers (MALSCE). We are a professional society representing professional land surveyors throughout Massachusetts. As land surveyors, we are responsible for determining property boundaries of private and public owners state-wide. We are the ones who will be directly affected by the proposed law.
The Great Ponds Coalition was formed in 2011 by more than 100 Massachusetts property owners to raise objections to H.804 (formerly H.254), an ill-considered measure that would transfer private land to the public, reversing centuries of settled property law and potentially costing the state and local communities hundreds of millions of dollars.
A court battle, begun in 2004, following the construction of a fence by one wealthy, South Shore neighbor to block beach access to another, also wealthy, who believed access was his by right and title, has spawned a furious, eight-year legal battle that is now before the state Supreme Judicial Court (SJC).
House bill 254 is not constitutional and if up held would set a dangerous precedent, potentially affecting all waterfront landowners.
The bill, recently voted out of the committee on natural resources, seeks to create public ownership of accreted land following the landward or lateral movement of barrier beaches by natural processes. It is purported to be a simple codification of settled law and applicable only to a few properties with a barrier beach between the ocean and a Great Pond. In fact, it is not about settled law, but rather an attempt to reverse what has been the law since colonial times.
In the midst of this hot summer weather, few Cape Codders can be expected to remember last December's 13-inch snowstorm and 10-foot high tides driven by gale force winds that battered coastal properties, and forced evacuations away from dangerous flooding.
But longer-term concerns remain. The Cape has 568 miles of tidal shoreline, all of it vulnerable to those storms, rises in sea level and flooding.