Written by Gregor I. McGregor, Esq.
Article 97 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution, approved by the voters in 1972, established a right to a clean environment including its natural, scenic, historical, and aesthetic qualities for the citizens of the Commonwealth.
This codified and expanded what the Legislature may enact as laws using the Police Power, and municipalities may enact as bylaws and ordinances using Home Rule.
Article 97 also declared the conservation of natural resources to be a public purpose, and provided that land, easements, or real property interests protected by Article 97, originally taken or acquired or subsequently dedicated to a natural resources purpose, shall not be used for other purposes or disposed of without a 2/3 roll call vote of both houses of the Legislature.
That part of Article 97 is a super-majority legislative check on changes of use or transfers of Article 97 protected properties. Over the years EOEEA has augmented Article 97 with its assessment program and review policy with the goal of “no net loss” of such land and water areas. Now these procedures and standards have been codified and augmented in the Public Lands Preservation Act (PLPA).
This new law took effect February 2023. Public and private landowners, property managers, facility operators, open space stewards, funding agencies, and the boards with care and control of “Article 97 Lands,” and their legal counsel involved in projects and transfers, take note of the recent EOEEA Guidelines and Portal for proposals and submittals on “Article 97 Actions.”
EOEEA shortly will issue the initial form for you to use to start the public notification, project proposal, natural resources evaluation, alternatives assessment, replacement lands, legislative drafting, and EOEEA findings and reasons needed for approval before passage. EOEEA eventually will promulgate its formal PLPA regulations due August 2024.
The firms founding partner, Gregor I. McGregor, will present a PowerPoint on Article 97 and the PLPA at the Massachusetts Municipal Lawyers Association (MMLA) Annual Meeting October 13 and Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions (MACC) Fall Conference October 28, 2023. Both events are at the Devens Enterprise Center at the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone in Devens, MA.
Mr. McGregor at both conferences will introduce as the principal speaker, Kurt Gaertner, EOEEA Assistant Secretary for Environmental Policy. In that capacity he is responsible for land use, land conservation, water resource, and other environmental policies and programs that seek to address climate change, promote sustainable development, and reduce land, energy, and natural resource consumption. Mr. Gaertner is in charge of PLPA implementation.
Mr. McGregor’s PLPA PowerPoint is available on this site at Slide Shows.