June 29, 2012 — The School of Law's Environmental Law Society has been selected to receive the prestigious Law Student Environment, Energy, and Resources Program of the Year Award from the American Bar Association Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources. The award is presented in recognition of the best student-organized educational program or public service project of the year focusing on issues in the field of environmental, energy or natural resources law. The Northeastern project, “Public Access to the Tidelands: A Report on Compliance with Chapter 91 Licenses on Boston's Waterfront,” was provided by the student team to the Conservation Law Foundation.

The report focuses on public access to the waterfront in downtown Boston. Buildings on old wharves and filled tidelands have to meet special requirements for public accommodation and access to navigable waters of the harbor. Massachusetts protects the public’s interests in tidal waters and tidelands through the public trust requirements of the tidelands statute. Those public trust principles are expressed in license requirements under Chapter 91 of the Massachusetts General Laws. The students found that there were many barriers to the public’s access to the waterfront and enjoyment of the harbor. The report documents the ways in which members of the public are being excluded from places that are intended to invite public access and use.  

"The students were very disciplined in scrutinizing compliance with the details of the permit requirements and double-checking the accuracy of their commentary," said Professor Lee Breckenridge, the group's faculty advisor. "I hope that the report will lay the groundwork for efforts to make sure that the public gains access to the waterfront in the way that the law intends. I also hope that the information the students have put together can help to inform the drafting of tidelands license requirements in the future."

The report was the product of nearly two years of work by nine members of the school's Environmental Law Society, including Ken Parker who organized and led the effort. The student team also included Ivria G. Fried, Nathan Band, Heather Govern, Briana Olson, Robert Ley, Melanie Morgon, Carla Erskine, L. Paige Walker. Of the nine students who worked on the project, six are enrolled in Northeastern's dual-degree JD/Master of Environmental Law and Policy program with Vermont Law School and three were semi-finalists in the National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition, held in February.

Parker said that the members of the group were gratified and humbled by the award, adding that the project itself was a great hands-on learning experience. "This was an exciting project because it gave us the opportunity to research the application of a legal principle that has been part of our tradition for centuries, the public trust doctrine, to the problem of preserving public access to coastal resources in a modern, developed city. As law students, we benefited from the advice and guidance of experienced attorneys at the Conservation Law Foundation, as we developed our legal research and writing skills putting together the report," Parker said.

The award will be presented at the ABA's annual meeting in Chicago in August.