A controversial bill that could dramatically affect property rights for some of the Vineyard’s barrier beaches was left stalled as the state legislature wrapped up its session Tuesday.
As Beacon Hill lawmakers began their summer recess on Wednesday, there had been no progress on house bill 254, which relates to barrier beaches that divide Great Ponds from the ocean. The one-paragraph bill would stipulate that as storms and rising sea levels erode the barrier beaches, ownership would not move with the sand. A barrier beach that moved to a place that was once the bottom of the pond would become a public beach, instead of transferring to the abutting landowner.
While the bill would affect the entire commonwealth, it has special significance on the Vineyard, which has 17 Great Ponds. According to the state, a Great Pond is any body of water more than 10 acres.
A staffer for Rep. Frank I. Smizik, a Democrat from Brookline who introduced the bill last year, said Thursday that the bill was ordered to a third reading in May 2011, and nothing has happened since that time.
Cape and Islands Rep. Tim Madden said through a spokeswoman that the bill was unlikely to be done this session. Mr. Madden said he expects the bill will likely be refiled in January 2013 by Rep. Smizik.
While the legislation has not moved in the last year, there has been lobbying by those on both sides of the legislation. A Vineyard group called the Great Ponds Coalition, which opposes the bill because it would be “reversing centuries of settled property law and potentially costing the state and local communities millions of dollars,” according to its website, paid lobbyists $70,000 to oppose the bill from Jan. 1 through June 30 of this year, according to filings with the Massachusetts Secretary of State.
The Massachusetts Boating and Yacht Club Association also paid $2,210 to oppose the bill in the same period.
The Massachusetts Association of Land Surveyors and Civil Engineers (MALSCE) also came out strongly against the bill. In a letter to state Sen. Karen Spilka, association president David Humphrey said the legislation would create “a very special law to be applied in very specific circumstances.”
Mr. Humphrey wrote that he fails to see how the bill would benefit the public. “First of all, there are very limited situations when it would actually create new public land,” he wrote. “The public would not have a means of accessing the new land because it would be isolated from any existing public land.
He also pointed to other flaws with the law, including a lack of a definition for barrier beach, and no specified date for when the law would go into effect.
On the other side, Richard Friedman, a Cambridge businessman who has a home on Oyster Pond in Edgartown, has been a strong advocate for the bill. According to the Secretary of State’s office, Mr. Friedman paid a lobbyist $60,000 to lobby for HB254 during the first six months of this year.
In other action as it wrapped up its formal session for the year, the legislature sent a Health Care Cost Containment bill to Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk. State law requires that employers contribute to the Commonwealth Care Trust Fund if they do not make “fair and reasonable” contributions to employee health care. The bill would raise the threshold for those required to contribute from 10 to 20 employees, and adds a provision that employees who have healthcare services from other sources are not included in the calculation. Vineyard legislative liaison Nell Coogan said the bill should be beneficial to small, seasonal businesses on the Island who struggle with health care requirements.
On Tuesday, Governor Patrick signed a crime bill that contains parole reforms for those convicted of serious crimes, and reformed sentencing laws for nonviolent drug offenders.
The legislature also signed off on a bill that would call on the U.S. Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court case that allowed for unlimited corporate spending in elections.
At annual town meetings this year, all six Island towns passed resolutions supporting the legislation.