Massachusetts is blessed with 1,500 miles of coastline — a resource that, ideally, everyone would be able to use. But only about a quarter of that coastline is publicly owned. And as a dispute in Falmouth shows, even evidence of public ownership is no guarantee of public access. State environmental officials were wise to step in there, but a broader problem remains.
In the Sippewissett subdivision in Falmouth, owners of back-lots away from the shoreline have been literally walled off from the shoreline by beachfront property owners, despite a long history of deeded rights to the beach. Town officials were reluctant to get involved. But state officials determined that the wall in question was on public tidal land, requiring beachfront owners to provide access to both the back-lot owners and the general public.