RI Shoreline Access Bills Become Law

On Monday June 26, 2023 RI Governor Dan McKee signed H5174A & S417A, completing the legislative process for the pair to become State law. The Governor’s signature comes less than two weeks after the RI House of Representatives and Senate passed the bills in concurrence before concluding the 2023 RI Legislative Session.

Read the Coalition Letter in support of shoreline access to Governor McKee

 

As enacted, H5174A & S417A include several provisions that will improve shoreline access in the Ocean State. Specifically, the new law:

Establishes a workable public-access boundary

Most importantly, the new law corrects a flawed RI Supreme Court decision by establishing a boundary 10 feet inland of the “recognizable high tide line” where Constitutional “privileges of the shore” are protected. Forty years ago the court’s ruling in State v. Ibbison imposed a shoreline boundary at the “mean high tide line” as determined by projecting the 18.6 year average of high tide elevations on the dynamic shoreline.  Unfortunately, the court’s boundary has proven to be unworkable because it is not actually identifiable on the beach. The new law also includes provisions that protect private property by limiting public access in situations where no passable shore exists, above the vegetation line, and to the use of privately-owned amenities such as cabanas and beach chairs. Legislators were deliberate in focusing exclusively on where shoreline rights are protected, rather than limiting the “privileges of the shore” described in Article 1, Section 17 of RI’s Constitution.

Limits landowner liability

While it doesn’t necessarily create new protection, because RI’s Recreational Use Statute has been law since 1978, the new shoreline access law clarifies that landowners whose property abuts the shore are afforded equivalent liability limitations against those enjoying newly-clarified access.  Liability was a constant concern brought up by bill opponents, and the inclusion of this language ensures that landowners are not liable for the public in all but the most egregious situations.

Includes educational resources

The new law tasks RI’s Coastal Resources Management Council, in coordination with the Department of Environmental Management and the RI Attorney General, with developing resources to educate both the public and private landowners on law’s practical application. This includes both disseminating information, and providing guidance for appropriate language for signage at shoreline locations.

 

Now that H5174A & S417A are law, some “thank yous” are in order. First, we extend our gratitude to bill sponsors, Rep. Terri Cortvriend and Sen. Mark McKenney. Both legislators were members of the 2021 Legislative Study Commission on Shoreline Access, chaired by Rep. Cortvriend, and have championed efforts in their respective chambers since then. Additionally, we thank House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio. Following the introduction of differing bills early in the 2023 legislative session Speaker Shekarchi and President Ruggerio facilitated negotiations towards the unified bills that passed in concurrence. Finally, we thank Governor McKee for signing the bills into law.

On the advocacy side – the shoreline access effort was supported by the dedication and efforts of hundreds of organizations and individuals over the last several years (you can find some of them signed on to our coalition letter to Governor McKee) While there are simply too many to list, we’d like to specifically recognize and thank our colleagues in advocacy at Save the Bay – Narragansett Bay, who have been close partners throughout the development of H5174A & S417A. From co-publishing op-eds on the shoreline access to being recognized on the House and Senate floors following successful votes, Save the Bay and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers have led the organizational charge to secure access to Rhode Island’s shoreline.

 

Watch the House and Senate Floor Remarks Below

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Christopher Borgatti

BHA Eastern Policy & Conservation Manager