In mid-November, Governor Baker signed into law the Public Lands Preservation Act – a bill that State Representative Ruth Balser has been filing for more than two decades. Green Newton is very grateful for the work that Representative Balser spearheaded to get this important legislation passed and signed into law. In her email newsletter, Representative Balser stated:
“This legislation strengthens the protections provided by Article 97 of the state constitution, which reads: The people shall have the right to clean air and water, freedom from excessive and unnecessary noise, and the natural, scenic, historic, and esthetic qualities of their environment; and the protection of the people in their right to the conservation, development and utilization of the agricultural, mineral, forest, water, air and other natural resources is hereby declared to be a public purpose.
Article 97 allows for the transfer of these lands for another purpose by a 2/3 vote of the legislature. Since the late 1990’s it has been the policy of the Commonwealth to require replacement land of equal market and environmental value when the land is transferred to another use. Since that time, environmental organizations have advocated for giving that policy the force of law. I am proud to have been their partner in that work these many years as the lead House sponsor for the legislation. It has taken many years, but this session was the charm!
The final bill, which is now Chapter 274 of the Acts of 2022:
- requires replacement of public parks and conservation land that are converted to a different use with land of equal natural resource and market value in a comparable location,
- requires prior notification to the public and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs of proposals to transfer the land,
- requires an alternatives analysis to demonstrate there is no feasible alternative, and
- allows cash payments in lieu of replacement land in limited cases so long as the cash is no less than 110% of the value and the money is spent within 3 years on replacement land.
The importance of protecting our open space cannot be overstated. It helps reduce climate change by storing carbon in trees and soil, and assists with climate change adaptation by acting as a buffer against floods and other natural disasters. It provides clean air, protects our drinking water, and supports agriculture, forestry, wildlife habitat, as well as recreation and tourism. If we learned anything during this pandemic, it was the added value to our quality of life by having access to public parks.
I have worked for the entire 24-years I have served in the legislature on this legislation because I love the outdoors and I cherish our protected land. Ensuring that the intent of Article 97 of the state constitution is achieved has been worth the time and effort.”