Testimony of the Great Ponds Coalition on House Bill 804: Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture

To The Honorable Marc Pacheco and The Honorable Ann Gobi,

Co-Chairs of the Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture

And Members of the Committee:

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.

This seemingly simple one-paragraph bill was filed on behalf of a private landowner who lost his case in Land Court and appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court. Earlier this year, the SJC again ruled against him. This bill is an attempt to sidestep the legal process through legislative redress.

The bill would transfer private barrier beach property that, due to storms or erosion, has shifted onto the bottom of the Great Ponds (any pond or lake of more than 10 acres) to public ownership.

While at first glance the bill may appear to have a public benefit – create new public beaches – in fact nearly all these barrier beaches are not accessible, and therefore there would be no real benefit to the public.

It also threatens to revert hundreds of parcels of land in communities including Newburyport, Plum Island, Cape Cod and the Islands, among others, to the Commonwealth.

Our preliminary economic analysis shows that this measure, because it would involve state land takings of private property and be subject to many legal challenges, could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars. 

The Great Ponds Coalition members believe our property rights would be jeopardized by passage of H. 804. We respectfully ask that the Committee reject this bill because of its negative effect on coastal property owners and likely economic impact.  Thank you.

Contact: Brian Hurley, 617-542-2300

Max Lifton