‘Privatizing’ Ponkapoag–A Tale of Two Bills

On Thursday, February 25, at 1:00 p.m. in State House Hearing Room 1-A, the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources & Agriculture will hold a hearing on two bills that may determine the fate of the Ponkapoag Golf Course, an integral part of the Blue Hills Reservation.

The first bill, S. 365 (sponsored by Senator Steven Baddour of the North Shore’s First Essex District) is entitled ‘An Act Relative to Disposition of State Property’. Friends of the Blue Hills OPPOSES this bill, which amounts to a giveaway of a precious public resource. The text of the bill is as short as it is objectionable: “Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, The Department of Conservation and Recreation within the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs will issue a public bid for the privatization of the Ponkapoag golf course, located in Canton and the Leo J. Martin golf course, located in Weston. All funds will be directed to the Department of Conservation and Recreation.” This ill-conceived bill fails to define “privatization” (although sale or lease are two obvious possibilities), fails to safeguard the public interest in and use of these important Article 97 properties, fails to expressly allow the Commonwealth any flexibility in drafting contingencies for a “public bid” (undefined in this bill or by reference to existing bidding statutes, which in any event are nullified by the express language of the bill), fails to protect the Commonwealth’s fiscal interest in maximizing its return on any “privatization” and fails as rational public policy. On its face, it is a flagrant giveaway of two of OUR most important resources. Please contact your Representative and Senator and urge them to OPPOSE this bill.

By contrast, H. 753 (sponsored by Representative Brad Jones of North Reading) authorizes–but does not require–the Commonwealth to lease the golf courses on terms acceptable to the Commonwealth and requires the lessee to maintain and improve the courses in consultation with DCR. The bill could be improved by more explicitly prohibiting expansion of uses beyond those currently extant (golfing, skiing, hiking, for example). Friends of the Blue Hills takes no position on this bill.

If you want your voice heard on either of these bills, besides contacting your representative and senator you may e-mail your comments to Environmental Committee Co-chairs Senator Anthony Petruccelli and Representative William Straus at, respectively, Anthony.Petruccelli@state.ma.us and Rep.WilliamStraus@Hou.State.MA.US.

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