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Massachusetts on public beaches--Boston Globe

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  • walterhorn
    Take back our beaches By Steve Bailey, Globe Columnist | June 30, 2006 Think of this long Independence Day weekend as the weekend we begin freeing our
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 30, 2006
      Take back our beaches
      By Steve Bailey, Globe Columnist | June 30, 2006
      Think of this long Independence Day weekend as the weekend we begin
      freeing our beaches.
      In Massachusetts there are far too many beaches where I can walk
      along the shore with a fishing rod in my hand, but not hand in hand
      with my kids. I can swim in the ocean as long as my feet don't touch
      the bottom. If it all sounds crazy -- if it all sounds frankly un-
      American -- that is because it is.
      Is there anything more obnoxious than a ``private, no trespassing"
      sign on a stretch of sandy beach? People who come from civilized
      places -- that is, almost anywhere else -- can't understand the
      concept. The ocean is our Grand Canyon; it belongs to everyone. It's
      wrong to fence it off.
      But what the emperor gave, Massachusetts' Colonial authorities gave
      away. A very long time ago -- in 530 A.D. -- Roman Emperor Justinian
      put into writing all the empire's civil laws. Among them: ``By the
      law of nature these things are common to all mankind: the air,
      running water, the sea, and consequently the shores of the sea."
      That public nature of the tidelands and the water became embedded
      first in European law, and later American law.
      Not, however, in Massachusetts. In the 1640s, our forefathers gave
      away much of the public's right to the land between the mean high
      tide line and the low tide line in an attempt to spur the development
      of wharfs and maritime commerce. It was the greatest land give away
      in the history of the Commonwealth, leaving three-quarters of the
      state's precious 1,500 miles of coastline in private hands. You would
      think that now, 350 years later, those development rights would have
      You would be wrong.
      The courts have consistently ruled in favor of private property
      owners and against the public's interest. The original law reserved
      the public's rights of ``fishing, fowling, and navigation," but the
      courts have ruled that you don't have the right to walk on the wet
      sand to get to the ocean to go swimming. Fowling yes, swimming no.
      William Bulger, who like me grew up on the beach, tried to do
      something about this elitist lunacy when he was Senate president.
      Having been tossed off a private beach, Bulger passed a bill that
      would allow the public to walk the wet sand. But nothing came of it
      because the law also required -- to satisfy the courts -- that
      private owners be compensated for the inconvenience of having walkers
      on their land. That never happened.
      Bulger thinks it is time to try again. ``What you need is a test
      case, an actual case, so this thing is challenged," he says.
      Times have changed since the 1640s, and the law needs to change, too.
      If the state's Supreme Judicial Court were as progressive on the
      beaches as it is on the state of marriage, it would recognize that
      how we use public resources, like marriage itself, has changed
      dramatically. Fowling is not what it used to be. And the cost to
      sharing the shore is small. Is a homeowner's property worth less on
      Long Island than on Cape Cod because people can walk the beach there
      and not here?
      The attorney general's office has produced a dandy little pamphlet
      explaining the rights of property owners and the public when it comes
      to the beaches. What I want is an attorney general who will get my
      rights back. To win, we'll need creative thinking, looking for
      whatever leverage we can find, whether it is eminent domain or
      something else. And we'll need to be as persistent and organized as
      those who think they can expel us from the beaches. We can't go away
      after Labor Day.
      I hope to see you on the beach this weekend. And eventually in court,
      too. Take back our beaches.
      Steve Bailey is a globe columnist. He can be reached at
      bailey@... or at 617-929-2902.
      © Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company
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