In 2002, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts purchased a large parcel of land owned by the Northlands Cranberry Company that straddled the border between Hanson and Halifax. The two towns contended that state law required that "rollback taxes" be paid to the two towns as the property was being taken out of agricultural use (many pieces of property in agricultural use receive significant reductions in property taxes; in many circumstances, if a property is taken out of agricultural use, the property owner is assessed property taxes for past years based on the "full
and fair use" of the property without the agricultural exemption).
The State disagreed with the two towns but reached a settlement with each community which included a cash payment and a transfer of land. The transfer of the land to Halifax never occurred. In 2012, legislation was filed and approved for the land transfer. The necessary steps for the transfer included a survey of the property which the DEP recently completed.
Since 2002, the Department of Environmental Management/Division of Fisheries and Wildlife has operated the Burrage Pond Wildlife Refuge (the former Northlands property) and has included two major access points, one on Hawks Avenue in Hanson and one off of Elm Street in Halifax. The survey work included a survey of the access point in Halifax. That survey showed that a significant portion of the access point was owned by private landowners, not the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Once that was determined, the owners indicated that they did not want the public to access the Burrage Pond Wildlife Refuge using their property and they were within their rights to block the access on their property.
The Town of Halifax does not have any property rights for the access point. While the agreement between the Commonwealth and the Town included a map showing the approximate location of the land to be transferred, the map was not a legal description of the property. The agreement does specify the acreage to be transferred but not its exact location.
The Commonwealth has some options it can take to establish a new access point in Halifax:
1) Setting aside the land being transferred to the Town, it can review the property it does own along Elm Street and determine a suitable location for a new access point and construct the necessary road and parking lot into the Wildlife Refuge;
2) The Commonwealth has, informally, indicated an interest in purchasing the property being transferred to the Town once the transaction to the Town is complete. It still would have to determine whether the property could serve as a proper access point. If it does, the Commonwealth could purchase the land, lease the land, or obtain an easement from the Town in order to construct a new access point. Of course, the Town would have to be a party to any agreement.
For the time being, however, the only major access point to the Wildlife Refuge is via the Hawks Avenue access point in Hanson.