The Massachusetts Appeals Court today told a man who owns property on a lake in Webster that just because he has access to a gravel path that goes down to the lake and just because state law dating to the Colonial Ordinances of 1641-1647 permit him to put a boat on the water doesn't mean he can build "a large, trident-shaped dock" in the lake at the end of the path - right in front of the home of neighbors on the other side of the path.
It's the second time in three years the court has had to deal with the battle between landowners on either side of the path down to Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, more commonly known as Webster Lake.
In a 2020 decision, the court ordered David Audette to stop blocking the path so that only he, his family and friends could get down to the water and his new dock. The justices based their ruling in part on the colonial ordinances, which allow public access to "great ponds" such as Webster (in Boston, Jamaica Pond and Sprague Pond in Readville are "great ponds"). And, the court continued, if the allegations of him threatening the people who lived on the other side of the path were true, he should knock that off immediately.
But the court sent the case back down to Superior Court to determine whether Audette had the right to build a dock on the lake.
That judge determined he did not, that while, as a "great pond," Webster Lake was open to boating, Audette did not have the right to build a dock right in front of his neighbors' home, even if he stopped trying to block the neighbors from accessing the pond as well. The judge said that his examination of the deeds created in 1948 that subdivided one large piece of land showed the right-of-way was only intended to allow "transient uses" related to lake access - such as walking down to the pond or loading or unloading a car - not to provide access to a semi-permanent dock.
Audette re-appealed, arguing that the fact that he's allowed to put a boat in the water should mean he can build a dock - especially since the state Department of Environmental Protection gave him a permit for one.
Audette contends that because the ROW was unquestionably intended to provide easement holders access to the lake for boating, it follows that it must also provide him access for constructing and using a dock, as docks are commonly located on lakes and associated with boating.
Nope, the appeals court told him today, without even asking if he's heard of "boat trailers."
Apart from citing general principles, Audette offered no support by way of evidence or specific cases holding that erecting, maintaining, and using a dock in front of the lakefront properties of others is a normal or reasonably anticipated use of a right of way intended to allow easement holders to pass through those properties to reach the lake.
As for the state permit, even aside from the issue that his application erroneously stated which land he owned along the lake:
Licenses granted under state waterways law] do not create property rights, nor do they authorize interference with the property rights of others. ...
Moreover, Audette's own license specifically states, "Nothing in this Waterways License shall be construed as authorizing encroachment in, on or over property not owned or controlled by the Licensee, except with the written consent of the owner(s) thereof."