Incorporating Climate Resilience into Chapter 91


In Massachusetts, Chapter 91, often referenced as our Waterfront Protection Act, was established to help govern the protection and public use of the Commonwealth’s tidelands, waterways, and waterfronts. Established in 1866 and with roots in Colonial Ordinances from the mid-1600s, Chapter 91 (Ch. 91) affirms our commitment to a “public trust doctrine”, or the notion that natural resources like our waterfront should not belong to any one person or entity, but instead, are to be collectively owned and enjoyed by all members of the public.

Standing as the oldest program protecting the public trust of waterfronts in the country, Ch. 91 regulates activities like construction, dredging, and the fill of tidelands, ponds, and certain rivers and streams, and it applies to activities on both coastal and inland waterways in Massachusetts. With Ch. 91, Massachusetts explicitly protects the rights of the public to access our waterfronts and stipulates that private uses of tidelands and waterways must serve a broader public purpose. While there are many state agencies that help to govern our waterways, the Waterways Program within the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) is the primary agency tasked with implementing the “public trust doctrine” for our waterways and waterfronts in the Commonwealth.

Under this jurisdiction within MassDEP, the Commonwealth is currently seeking input on proposed updates to Chapter 91 regulations (310 CMR 9.00), to incorporate a need to consider the effects of a changing climate on our waterfronts and waterways. These Ch. 91 regulatory updates are looking to incorporate the climate impacts of sea level rise, increased precipitation, and intensifying storms into the Ch. 91 process over time.

Earlier this spring, A Better City submitted written comments with our recommendations and concerns for updating the Ch. 91 process, and made suggestions around: 1) defining climate resiliency in Ch. 91 regulations, with the incorporation of extreme heat as a core climate resilience threat, 2) promoting district-wide and regional approaches to resiliency; 3) clarifying technical and timing aspects of Ch. 91 regulatory update implementation; 4) ensuring consistency, predictability, and policy alignment; and 5) defining equitable waterfront accessibility for all.

To read our written comments on Ch. 91, please see here. For more information on our submitted comments and ongoing efforts to influence climate-informed Ch. 91 regulatory updates, please contact Isabella Gambill.



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