photo credit: @savingcoastalaccess

Legislation Introduced to Safeguard the Right of Rhode Islanders to Shoreline Access

In an effort to safeguard the cherished coastal access of Rhode Islanders, Senator Victoria Gu and Representative Terri Cortvriend are championing three key bills aimed at preserving historic rights-of-ways and enhancing public enjoyment of the state’s scenic coastline.

Senator Gu, representing District 38 (Westerly, Charlestown, South Kingstown), emphasized the significance of Rhode Island’s coastal resources, stating, “Our coasts, rivers, ponds, and lakes are precious resources that make Rhode Island special. These bills will give the CRMC and municipalities more tools to preserve historic rights-of-ways so that every Rhode Islander can enjoy them.”

The proposed legislative package encompasses three bills with distinct objectives. Firstly, the bills seek to increase transparency regarding shoreline access rights and conditions when purchasing oceanfront properties. The legislation, represented by bills 2024-S 2185 and 2024-H 7376, mandates sellers to disclose in writing any conditions related to public access, CRMC permits, or right of way, providing prospective buyers with essential information to make informed decisions.

Representative Cortvriend, representing District 72 (Portsmouth, Middletown), noted the ongoing efforts to clarify public shoreline definitions, stating, “Last year we finally clarified and defined the public shoreline, allowing Rhode Islanders to comfortably enjoy their constitutional right to enjoy our coasts. But we still have work to do to protect our public access to the shore by preserving our rights-of-way.”

The second bill in the package addresses the preservation of recreation easements on abandoned roads, allowing towns to maintain access to the shore despite challenges posed by sea-level rise and frequent flooding. Bills 2024-S 2641 and 2024-H 7645 propose granting municipalities the option to preserve easements for walking or other recreational activities when abandoning coastal roads.

The third bill empowers the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) to designate historical footpaths as official rights-of-way, overturning the previous requirement that pathways be used by carriages or vehicles. Bills 2024-S 2634 and 2024-H 7750 aim to protect and preserve historical footpaths for shoreline access.

Michael Rubin, retired Rhode Island assistant attorney general and coastal advocate, expressed support for the legislation, stating, “This bill is a great step forward. It embodies the concept of doing no harm. Too often when towns abandon roads, it harms the public by reducing access. This bill will allow those roads to continue to serve recreation and access to our natural resources.”

In addition to sponsoring the bills, Senator Gu and Representative Cortvriend are urging the General Assembly to allocate necessary funding in the 2025 FY budget. This funding would enable the CRMC to dedicate resources to rights-of-way research and designation, enforce existing rights-of-way, install signage, and remove unauthorized barriers, further ensuring the protection and enhancement of public shoreline access in Rhode Island.




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