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Thursday, March 31, 2022

Shoreline Access Bill Submitted to State Legislature Committee

No hearing scheduled yet

By EcoRI

A bevy of signs up and down Charlestown Beach Road all say the same thing. (Joanna Detz/ecoRI News)

A bill that would give the public the right to walk on state beaches up to 10 feet above the seaweed line was introduced on March 28.

House Bill 8055 would establish that the public has the right to be 10 feet above the “recognizable high tide line” on any sandy or rocky shorelineIt was introduced by Rep. Terri Cortvriend, D-Portsmouth, and House Minority Leader Blake Filippi, R-Block Island.

A 12-member study commission examined state shoreline access issues for six months, and supported expanding the public’s right to pass along the shore up to the seaweed line. Individual members disagreed on the additional of space needed beyond that for beach-goers to access this right.

Private property owners and shoreline access advocates have been arguing over beach access for decades, as the commission learned over its six months of meetings. 

The Rhode Island Constitution enshrines rights to enjoy the privileges of the shore, but leaves unanswered the question of where on the shore do those rights begin and private property owners’ end?

A state Supreme Court decision in 1982 clarified the boundary line at the mean high-water line, but that has its own problems. The actual mean high-water line is nearly impossible for any casual beach-goer to see, unless they happen to be packing sophisticated scientific equipment. 

Shoreline advocates have long called for changing the boundary line to the more visible seaweed line, where high tide is marked on the sand by the debris it leaves behind.

The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, but is not yet scheduled for a hearing.