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Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Neronha wants shoreline access lawsuit thrown out

Says the beach front property owners' lawsuit is fatally flawed

By Nancy Lavin, Rhode Island Current

The group of coastal taxpayers seeking to stop state agencies from enforcing the new shoreline access law has no grounds to sue.

So said Attorney General Peter Neronha, whose office filed a motion in U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island on Monday seeking to dismiss the lawsuit.

The new law, signed by Gov. Dan McKee in June, attempted to clarify a decades long dispute over where to draw the line in the sand, allowing public access to the beach anywhere 10 feet landward from the high tide or “wrack” line.

Weeks later, a group of shoreline property owners known as the Rhode Island Association of Coastal Taxpayers sued Neronha and other state agencies, contending the law amounted to an unconstitutional “taking” of their property and asking for a judge to immediately stop them from enforcing the law.

Neronha’s office countered in the 58-page filing that the taxpayers group failed to identify any individual members who have been harmed by the state law clarifying public beach access. Even David Welch, president of the taxpayers group, doesn’t qualify because the Charlestown beachfront home is owned by a limited liability company, not Welch himself, Neronha’s office said.

Another “fundamental flaw,” as stated in Neronha’s response, is that their challenge is directed at the wrong group: Property owners sued state agencies, but it’s the beachgoers who they allege are “trespassing” on their private property, not the agencies charged with sharing information and posting signage about the law.

Neronha further seeks to dismantle the plaintiffs’ argument by pointing out that the state agencies in question – the Department of Environmental Management and Coastal Resources Management Council – don’t actually have any enforcement power. 

Which means the request to have a judge temporarily stop agencies from enforcing the law doesn’t make sense; the only enforcement protections under the law are for beachgoers, not state agencies.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, the Libertarian group representing the taxpayers, declined to comment on Neronha’s filing on Tuesday. 

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