State lawmaker files bill to increase beach access for public

BOSTON — Massachusetts is blessed with some of the country’s most beautiful beaches, but many of them are off-limits to the public.

That lack of access is based on a law that dates back to the colonial period.

“Access to the sea should be for everyone, yet in Massachusetts, because of these colonial laws from the 1700′s, we have some of the most restrictive beach access in the country,” said State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, a Democrat from Falmouth.

Along with Maine, property owners in Massachusetts can own land all the way down to the low tide line. “Many people are being barred access to the ocean, and I believe access to the ocean is a fundamental right,” added Fernandes.

Fernandes has filed a bill to amend the Commonwealth’s 350-year-old law.

Currently someone can only access the so-called intertidal zone, the space between where low tide and high tide lands for three reasons: fishing, fowling and navigation.

Fernandes wants to add a fourth: recreation. “People have reached out to me from across the Commonwealth sharing stories about how they’ve been yelled at. They’ve been chased off beaches. They’ve had people call the cops on them. Simply for walking on the intertidal zone.”

Locals along the Shining Sea Bikeway in Falmouth seem to like the idea of more access.

“I don’t own a beach or a house that has a beach and we love public access. I think the beaches should be open to everybody, definitely,” one woman told Boston 25 News

“Nobody owns the Atlantic Ocean,” a man riding his bike told Boston 25 News. “Everyone has the right to put a boat in, walk in it, swim in it, regardless of the beach boundary line.”

“Regardless of what the potential use is, this is private property and private property that has been recognized as such for hundreds of years,” said Jeremy Talcott, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a national organization that advocates for the rights of property owners.

Talcott added that allowing more access to beaches might sound like good policy, but it could create bigger problems down the line.

“If you give government the power to simply redefine these rights, without compensation, that’s something that can be expanded into every avenue of private property rights, and can greatly impact virtually every individual,” Talcott explained.

Fernandes doesn’t buy that argument. He said he believes adding recreation just makes a very old law a little more relevant today.

“No one was going to the beach in the 1700s, to go on a long walk with their partner, or work on their tan lines. So, us adding recreation is keeping in line with the original intent of how the law was written,” he said.

Even if this change is adopted, Massachusetts will still have less beach access than some other states.

In Hawaii and Texas, for example, public access goes all the way up to the vegetation line.

Fernandes is hoping a hearing on his bill will be held this fall.