The Conservation Law Foundation has sided with the federal government in a dispute with the state over property boundaries on Cape Cod. The environmental advocacy group is concerned with how the dispute could affect environmental preservation on the Cape.
Attorney General Maura Healey announced she’s suing the federal government to assert state ownership of about 4,000 acres of submerged land off the coast of the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge—more area than in the refuge itself. Monomoy is basically a stretch of sand arcing from Chatham into Nantucket Sound that’s home to sea birds and thousands of seals. In a conservation plan released this spring, the federal government claimed ownership of the submerged land.

“We’ve done exhaustive legal review and we believe these lands are part of the national wildlife refuge system and should remain public,” said Terri Edwards, chief of public affairs at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

CLF President Brad Campbell agrees with that, and worries about the environmental impact of what he considers a land grab by the state.

“The only consequence of the state assuming control over the federal government is that it won’t be managed as a national wildlife refuge, and that means that the protections that come with refuge status will be off the table and we’ll essentially be drawing on a clean slate as to whether and how these resources are protected in the future,” Campbell said.

Attorney General Maura Healey says Campbell has nothing to worry about.

“Not at all," Healey said. "Massachusetts has been protecting and maintaining that land for the last 70 years, we want to continue to do that. We want to continue to lead on environmental protection and protection of our natural resources, and that’s what this is about.”

Healey insists the state owns the submerged land and has managed and regulated it along with the town of Chatham since it first became a wildlife refuge in 1944. Healey said regardless of what a court rules, Massachusetts has no plans to change how it’s managed. U.S. Rep. Bill Keating has introduced legislation that would settle the dispute in favor of the state. If the dispute can’t be settled before before 180 days pass, the issue will be heard in U.S. District Court.