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Design Standards for Small Docks/Piers General Licenses

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Design Standards for Small Docks/Piers General Licenses

  • CRC

February 14, 2012

Andrea Langhauser
Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection
1 Winter Street
Boston MA 02108

Re:      Potential Eligibility Criteria/Design Standards for Small Docks/Piers General Licenses
January 25, 2012 draft submitted by CZM and Steve Mague of Durand & Anastas Inc.

Dear Ms. Langhauser,

The Connecticut River Watershed Council (CRC) is the principal nonprofit environmental advocate for protection, restoration, and sustainable use of the Connecticut River and its watershed.  We have been working to protect this four-state watershed since 1952.  The Connecticut River is an American Heritage River, and is widely used for recreation.  Our Connecticut River Boating Guide: Source to Sea, updated in 2007, is a resource for paddlers and motor boaters alike that use the full length of the river.

Up and down the river, docks can have an aesthetic and environmental impact.  A general license process may help prevent backlogs (although I am not aware that that is a problem), but they should err on the side of being protective such that a project outside of the general license parameters goes through a more thorough review.  Though we have not had as much of a “Mega-dock” or McMansion dock problem as in the lower part of the Connecticut River, we look at these design standards with an eye to keeping the impacts of docks to a minimum.

Eligibility Criteria #6.
We would like to propose adding the section of the Connecticut River that is considered a “Water Trail” within the Connecticut River Greenway State Park, such that a Chapter 91 license application within this river segment is not be eligible for a general license.  This section has a 15 mph speed limit and jet ski (personal watercraft) ban.  There are currently very few docks along this section of river, which starts at the confluence with the Deerfield River and goes downstream to the Hatfield boat ramp.  Massachusetts has made an effort to keep this section of river relatively pristine, so adding this to criteria #6 would be consistent with that commitment.

Eligibility Criteria #9.  
The proposed size limit of 600 square feet (SF) is too big for rivers, and the criteria are too simplistic to cover rivers, lakes, and coastal environments under a range of habitat, aesthetic, and recreational usage types.  I looked through other Chapter 91 license applications along the Connecticut River, and found that MassDEP commented on two applications that were 527 SF and 232 SF, and asked for justification why they have to be “relatively extensive.”  All residential Ch. 91 licenses I looked through were <600 SF.  The biggest one I found was 536 SF and it could have docked 8 boats.

We recommend looking at a tiered system, similar to that recommended by the Connecticut River Estuary Regional Planning Agency in 2004.  A summary of their tiered system is shown in the table below (online reference is

The CRERPA model standards are based on overall dock area.  “Dock area” includes that of fixed pier, ramp and floating dock at mean high water (MHW).

CRERPA Model StandardsType A.  Severe sensitivity/ impactType B.  Strong sensitivity/ impactType C.  Moderate sensitivity/ impactType D.  Little or no sensitivity/ impact
Total dock area shall not be greater than ….300 SF350 SF400 SF600 SF; no dock shall exceed length of 100 ft.
Dock shall not extend more than 25% width, or X feet beyond MLW, whichever is the lesser distanceX = 40 ftX = 40 ftX = 50 ftX = 50 ft
Sharing structures is encouraged, with such shared structure increased in area by X % in order to accommodate riparian right of access for both ownersX =30%X=35%X=40%X=40%
Structures over wetlands shall not be wider than 4 feet and must be elevated at least 5 feet above marsh surface.  No fixed timber pier shall exceed 5 feet in width.


We think that MassDEP should consider incorporating the following ideas from the CRERPA model standards:
•    Smaller total dock area in most cases.  The proposed 600 SF is much too big.  Think about a tiered system, or varying areas depending on resource type.
•    Limiting the length a dock can extend out into a river based on 25% river width or a specific length, whichever is the lesser distance.
•    Encouraging the sharing of docks.

Eligibility Criteria #10.
We haven’t seen the new regulations, but it is unfortunate that the Conservation Commission has been removed from this process and now the planning board, which has very little experience or role in protecting natural resources, is the board that is reviewing these applications.

Eligibility Criteria #11.
Change language in second sentence to “dock or pier” or “proposed structure” owners rather than property owners.  There are numerous docks on the Connecticut River in which property is owned by a hydropower company, but a house or camp is owned by someone else.

Siting Standards #1 and #2.
These standards seem to be the same as the Army Corps guidelines for “linear waterways.”  See comment above refining the length limits.

It’s not clear if T-shaped or other shape structures are automatically ineligible for the general license.

Siting Standards #5.
There are seasonal camps along a part of the Connecticut River that have docks that are less than 50 feet from the camp structure, so I could see loosening this criteria to allow for these to fall within the general license.

Construction Standards.
We recently received a letter from one of our members in South Hadley, who wrote, “When the docks are put in the CT River in the spring and until they are taken out in the fall, tiny Styrofoam pieces break off from the docks and go down stream.   Something needs to be done about this.  I saw one dock had chicken wire and another had screen in an attempt to contain the broken Styrofoam.   Most of them had nothing to prevent them from falling apart and starting their journey to the ocean.  Almost every dock on the river including Brunelle’s Marina have Styrofoam.  Very often in certain spots on the river there is so much styrofoam it looks like snow and lines the shore.”  In order to ensure compliance with MA Surface Water Quality Standards (314 CMR 4.00) with regard to standards for solids, we recommend that the construction standards include a requirement of sealed plastic floats.  Anyone using Styrofoam should have to get an individual license, or perhaps DEP should steer people away from its use altogether.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.  If you would like to contact me, I can be reached at 413-772-2020 x. 205 or


Andrea Donlon
River Steward

cc:    Jeremiah Mew, MassDEP WERO
Bob McCollum, MassDEP WERO
Julia Blatt, Massachusetts Rivers Alliance
Margaret VanDeusen, Charles River Watershed Association

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