The Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) works with coastal communities to ensure waterfront areas grow in an environmentally sound and economically prosperous manner by promoting harbor planning and encouraging the creation or expansion of water-dependent facilities in developed port and harbor areas. This approach maximizes the value of these developed ports and ensures that businesses that require close proximity to harbors, such as shipping and fishing facilities, remain viable.

This web page discusses CZM’s regulatory responsibilities in harbor planning, focusing on state-approved Municipal Harbor Plans (MHPs) and Designated Port Area (DPA) Master Plans. It also provides links to relevant state regulations, MHP regulatory decisions, and CZM harbor planning publications. For more information on how to receive CZM assistance with both formal, state-approved harbor planning and informal harbor planning activities, see Port and Harbor Planning Program - Technical Assistance.

Municipal Harbor Plans

A state-approved MHP establishes a community’s objectives, standards, and policies for guiding public and private use of land and water within the jurisdiction of the Public Waterfront Act (Chapter 91). (A brief explanation of Chapter 91 is available on page 35 of Environmental Permitting in Massachusetts. Also, the regulations implementing Chapter 91 are available at 310 CMR 9.00.) Working with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), CZM has developed a set of regulations ( 301 CMR 23.00 pdf format of CMR 23.00: Review & Approval of Municipal Harbor Plans ) that articulate how a coastal community can develop a state-approved MHP. Following these steps and standards to prepare an MHP provides communities with an opportunity to modify state Chapter 91 standards to meet local planning objectives. Many of the major ports in Massachusetts, including Boston, New Bedford/Fairhaven, Fall River, Salem, and Gloucester, have completed state-approved MHPs.

Designated Port Area Master Plans

DPAs are land and water areas with certain physical and operational features that have been identified to have particular state, regional, and national significance with respect to the promotion of water-dependent industrial uses such as commercial fishing, shipping, and other vessel-related activities associated with water-borne commerce and to manufacturing, processing, and production activities reliant upon marine transportation or the withdrawal or discharge of large volumes of water.

Under the state MHP regulations, municipalities are able take a comprehensive approach to planning for their DPAs through DPA Master Plans. A DPA Master Plan is the component of an MHP pertaining to lands and waters of a DPA. The DPA Master Plan must comply with a series of approvability standards found within the municipal harbor planning regulations ( 301 CMR 23.00 pdf format of CMR 23.00: Review & Approval of Municipal Harbor Plans ). These standards include measures to preserve and enhance the capacity of the DPA to accommodate water-dependent industrial use. In a DPA Master Plan, a municipality may request flexibility for certain use standards, but must balance that flexibility with elements that ensure that DPA interests are still protected.

For more information on DPAs, including official boundary maps and descriptions of Massachusetts’s 11 DPAs, see CZM’s Designated Port Area website.

Relevant State Regulations

Regulatory Decisions on Municipal Harbor Plans and Designated Port Area Master Plans

Boston Harbor
North Shore
South Coastal
Cape Cod and Islands

Related CZM Publications

  • Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management Policy Guide - October 2011 - The Policy Guide is the official statement of Massachusetts coastal program policies and legal authorities and includes the policies that govern CZM’s Port and Harbor Planning Program and project review efforts.
  • Coastlines 2003 pdf format of Coastlines 2003 file size 3MB - This edition of CZM’s magazine focuses on ports and harbors, with articles on the port of Boston, the other major ports in Massachusetts, Designated Port Areas, shipping, and related issues.
  • Gloucester Harbor Characterization: Environmental History, Human Influences, and Status of Marine Resources pdf format of gloucester-harbor-characterization.pdf file size 1MB - This 2004 document describes human and natural resources of Gloucester Harbor, one of Massachusetts's oldest and productive harbors. It examines and describes the environmental history of development and human influences, characterizes current understanding of environmental quality, examines lobster fishing and lobster population structure, investigates fish community structure, and describes seafloor habitat.
  • Urban Marine Habitats—Spotlight on Gloucester Harbor - This article on page 31 of the winter 2004/2005 Coastlines pdf format of Coastlines 2004-2005 file size 37MB discusses the marine life and habitats of Gloucester Harbor.