The Superior Court decision on the Downtown Municipal Harbor Plan, or MHP is a victory for protecting open access to Boston’s beautiful waterfront. It’s also an opportunity to reimagine what waterfront development should look like. What it is not is a decision about any one individual project.
Let’s be clear: The decision upholds Massachusetts law that protects the waterfront from becoming privatized through a deeply flawed process. The approval of the Downtown MHP by the former state secretary of energy and environmental affairs was the culmination of a process that was supposed to take into account the needs of the public but instead prioritized the concerns of the politically connected. The court ruled correctly that the Department of Environmental Protection, as the trustee of the public waterfront, has the exclusive authority on behalf of the state to approve or reject such plans, not the secretary.
The waterfront by law must be available to be shared by all residents of Massachusetts, not just the wealthiest few. Protecting that right means that waterfront development must promote public access and benefit – not privatize the shoreline or forfeit opportunities for signature waterfront public space. The people of Massachusetts paid tens of billions of dollars to clean up Boston Harbor and make it accessible. Throughout Greater Boston, people now pay significant sewer fees to keep it clean. The court decision says they have a right to enjoy it.
We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create the world-class waterfront we all know Boston can have, one that is inclusive of the diversity of people and cultures that make Boston so special. Moving forward, residents from all over Boston should be able to weigh in on public access proposals and what they want to see on the waterfront. Let’s work together to transform Boston’s waterfront.
— Peter Shelley, senior counsel, Conservation Law Foundation