Protecting Shoreline Access is a top priority for the Rhode Island BHA team in 2023. Alongside a growing coalition of shoreline access advocates and organizations, BHA’s team remains focused on enacting a law that protects and restores access to Rhode Island’s shore by implementing a clear, identifiable boundary. In the last 12 months we have published articles, spoken on local panels, and even participated in a water access policy seminar at BHA’s 2023 North American Rendezvous in Missoula, Montana. We’re excited to continue moving this issue forward by supporting this year’s shoreline access bills.
While both the RI House and Senate have already held public hearings on H5174 & S417, introduced by Rep. Terri Cortvriend and Sen. Mark McKenney respectively, the issue is still in play and you can help get it across the finish line. Currently, S417A includes meaningful contributions from both the original House and Senate bills. Further, if passed it would enact the boundary that was recommended by a 2021 Legislative Study Commission on Shoreline Access in their Final Report, and would overturn a problematic court decision that has confused and complicated access to RI’s shores for nearly 40 years.
As amended, S417A would amend RI’s General Laws to include the following:
- Rights protected by RI’s Constitution, Article 1 Section 17 are allowed within a boundary of 10 feet inland of the mark left by the most recent high tide. The 2021 Study Commission considered specifically how far inland a boundary could be imposed based on RI’s legal history before it might violate the 5th Amendment of the US Constitution by “taking” private property for public use without just compensation, and the 10-foot proposal is as far inland as the Commission recommended going.
- Language that specifies that the mark left by the most recent high tide is the one that bounds the public access buffer, rather than the highest observable mark in cases where a prior tide reached higher than the most recent tide. While this wasn’t specifically recommended by the 2021 Study Commission it reflects the Commission’s intent, which was to link an access boundary to the height of the most recent high tide.
- Language that tasks RI’s Coastal Resources Management Council, Department of Environmental Management, and the RI Attorney General with developing guidance to assist with public education on the practical implementation of the legislation, and for shoreline boundary signage.
Following the RI Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote to recommend passage during their meeting last Thursday, June 1, the full RI Senate is scheduled to vote on S417A during their floor session on Thursday, June 8. Following the Senate’s vote, the amended bill will need to pass back through the House for an additional vote, so urging both Reps and Senators to support of shoreline access is needed.