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Chapter 91 of the Massachusetts General Laws is the Public Waterfront Act. This law protects our waterways for public use. The law dates back to 1866, but its ideas go all the way back to the Colonial period. These questions and answers explain how Chapter 91 permits work.
What is the purpose of Chapter 91?
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) administers and enforces Chapter 91 to:
Source: 310 CMR 9.01(2). See also the Waterways Permitting Guide for details on which type of Chapter 91 authorization your proposed activity or project requires.
How do I determine if my project or activity is subject to requiring authorization under Chapter 91?
Any activity occurring in, on, over or under one of the geographical areas listed below requires the issuance of some form of Chapter 91 authorization. This applies to existing unauthorized activities as well as new projects.
Source: 310 CMR 9.04(1)
What do I do if I am not sure whether my proposed project or activity is subject to Chapter 91 authorization?
If it is unclear whether you are in an area of Chapter 91 jurisdiction, you may submit a formal Request for Determination of Applicability (RDA) to MASSDEP. The purpose of an RDA is essentially to determine if you are subject to Chapter 91 authorization.
What activities require Chapter 91 authorization?
The basic categories of activity that require authorization according to Chapter 91 are listed below. These include both proposed and existing unauthorized activities occurring in, on or under the designated areas of Chapter 91 jurisdiction, which include: flowed tidelands, filled tidelands, great ponds and certain non-tidal rivers and streams. It is best to check with the Waterways Program at MassDEP (email@example.com) to determine if your activity is subject to Chapter 91 authorization.
What activities are exempt from requiring Chapter 91 authorization?
Some activities taking place within the geographical jurisdiction of Chapter 91 do not require authorization. Prior to undertaking any of the following activities, you must first notify MassDEP of your intent to perform such projects. In turn, MassDEP will provide written notification to the applicant as to whether or not Chapter 91 authorization is required. Activities that may be exempt from Chapter 91 authorization include but are not limited to:
For more detailed information on which activities are exempt from Chapter 91 licensing and permitting requirements, please consult 310 CMR 9.05(3) (a)-(m) of the MassDEP Waterways regulations.
What are the different types of Chapter 91 authorizations?
What is the difference between a Chapter 91 license and a permit?
A Chapter 91 license application is required for activities involving work on or use of fill or structures that are to be undertaken in an area of Chapter 91 jurisdiction. However, a Chapter 91 permit application is required for activities of a one-time or short-term nature that do not involve work on structures or fill.
What activities require Chapter 91 license approval?
A license application is required for the following activities involving work on or use of fill or structures, located in an area of Chapter 91 jurisdiction:
Source: 9.05 (1) (a)-(d)
Certain activities are categorically prohibited in areas within the jurisdiction of Chapter 91. Please see 310 CMR 9.32 or contact the Waterways program (firstname.lastname@example.org) for details.
If I plan to construct a small residential dock, what type of authorization will I require?
If you propose to construct a small dock, pier, seawall, bulkhead or other small-scale structure that is an accessory to a residential use or serves as a non-commercial community docking facility, you may qualify for a simplified Chapter 91 Waterways license if your structure meets the following eligibility requirements:
If, however, you propose to install a floating dock, float or raft that is bottom-anchored, seasonal and not permanently pile-supported, it may be authorized by the local harbormaster or other authorized municipal official through an annual Section 10A permit, instead of MassDEP. No other Chapter 91 authorization is required, as long as the locally issued annual Harbormaster permit remains valid.
What is the application procedure for a Simplified Chapter 91 License?
When can I apply to MassDEP for a Chapter Waterways 91 permit?
You may submit an application to MassDEP for a Chapter 91 Waterways Permit for the following activities that do not involve work on structures or fill. Please note that at the applicant's discretion, these activities may instead be included as part of a Chapter 91 Waterways license application if a longer license term is sought.
How do I apply for a Chapter 91 Waterways Permit?
In order to apply for a Chapter 91 Waterways Permit, an applicant needs to complete and submit a Chapter 91 Waterways License application to MassDEP. For further instructions, please see the following:
How to determine if my project or use site is classified as a Water-Dependent use or Nonwater-dependent use?
When an applicant seeks authorization through Chapter 91, MassDEP makes a decision as to whether the applicant's project or use is Water-dependent or Nonwater-dependent.
In general, water-dependent uses require direct access to, or a location in, tidal waters or great ponds and therefore, cannot be located away from the water's edge. Examples of water-dependent uses include but are not limited to:
See 310 CMR 9.12 (2) in the Waterways regulations for more water-dependent uses.
Nonwater-dependent uses, however, do NOT require water for the structure or use to exist. Examples of nonwater- dependent uses include:
What if my proposed project or use site consists of a mixture of water-dependent and nonwater-dependent uses?
If any part of a project or use site, no matter how small, is considered nonwater-dependent, then MassDEP classifies the entire site as Nonwater-dependent. For example, if a single family home (nonwater-dependent) located on the water has a small dock, which would generally be considered water-dependent, then the entire property would be classified by MassDEP as a Nonwater-dependent use.
What is the licensing application procedure for Water-Dependent use projects?
Licensing Application Procedures for Water-Dependent Use Projects
Within 60 days of completion of any licensed project, the Licensee must request in writing that the MassDEP issue a certificate of compliance. Failure to request a certificate of compliance may result in revocation of the subject license.
What class of nonwater-dependent Chapter 91 license application should I submit?
An applicant may submit one of the following four application review options for Nonwater-Dependent Chapter 91 Waterways License. In addition to fees and processing time, selection of a particular nonwater-dependent application review option will largely depend upon the location, nature and complexity of the proposed activity and the level of detailed information compiled and contained in the initial application submittal. These include (see 310 CMR 9.11):
Please carefully examine 301 CMR 11.00, the MEPA regulation, to determine if your project exceeds the MEPA review thresholds, or for more information contact the MEPA Unit of the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs: 617-626-1020. Please note that MassDEP will not issue notice of license for publication until MEPA review process is complete.
What is the licensing application procedure for Nonwater-Dependent use projects?
Licensing Application Procedures for Nonwater-Dependent Use Projects: