Save The Bay, state representatives, legal and science experts, and shoreline access advocates call for a House vote in support of H.8055
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – April 8, 2022 – Following Tuesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing on H.8055—a bill that would clarify where Rhode Islanders can exercise their constitutional right to the shore—shoreline access advocates and supporters across the state are calling for the committee to recommend the bill for a vote by the House of Representatives.
The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Terri Cortvriend (D-Middletown/Portsmouth) and Rep. Blake Filippi (R-Block Island), is the resulting product of an eight-month-long study commission formed to examine the issue of lateral shoreline access.
“H.8055 is the result of months of work by the Study Commission on Lateral Shoreline Access with the input of our state’s best experts on the topic, whether they served on the commission or provided the commission with expert testimony,” stated Rep. Cortvriend. “It was our charge to consider where the constitutional rights described as ‘privileges to the shore’ in our state’s constitution applied. The commission did its best to arrive at a fair solution to this long-standing confusion and conflict between beach-goers, fishermen, tourists and shoreline property owners. I sincerely hope that the Judiciary Committee arrives at the same conclusion that we did.”
“This legislature has a duty to protect the public trust by restoring our constitutional right to shoreline access in this Ocean State,” said Rep. Filippi. “Our proposal strikes a proper balance between public access and private property rights, and should be passed forthwith by the General Assembly.”
Public use of the shoreline—an area above the visible high tide line—has been an integral part of life around Narragansett Bay dating back to before the chartering of the State of Rhode Island. While the state constitution preserves the “privileges of the shore” for all Rhode Islanders, a decades-old court decision continues to cause confusion for both the public and coastal property owners about where, exactly, the public can exercise their shoreline rights.
The legislative study commission—chaired by Rep. Cortvriend and co-chaired by Rep. Filippi—was formed to examine this problem. After hearing from legal experts, coastal scientists, and the public, the commission concluded that the General Assembly should clarify that the public’s shoreline access rights extend 10 feet landward of the visible high tide line from a rocky or sandy shore (but below the vegetation line or sea walls). H.8055 reflects these findings.
With strong bipartisan support, the bill is co-sponsored by 47 of the state’s 75 representatives—a veto-proof majority—and has far-reaching support from a diverse group of advocates, ranging from environmental organizations and coastal and inland residents to experts from the scientific and legal communities.
“As an advocate for public access, and a member of the shoreline access commission, Save The Bay strongly supports H.8055,” said Save The Bay Director of Advocacy Topher Hamblett. “This bill gives both the public and property owners the clarity they need to understand the location of the public’s shoreline. It restores the rights initially outlined in the Royal Charter of 1663 while respecting private property, and we know it has broad public support from coastal property owners and beachgoers alike. We urge the House Judiciary Committee to recommend the bill for a vote in the House, for the Senate to introduce its companion bill, and for the General Assembly to finalize this critical and historic piece of legislation.”
“I am thrilled that the Rhode Island General Assembly is taking this strong, measured approach to restore the rights of all Rhode Islanders to use what we commonly know as the ‘shore’,” said Dennis Nixon, University of Rhode Island Professor Emeritus of Marine Affairs. “The old Mean High Water boundary adopted by the R.I. Supreme Court forty years ago was a terrible, inadvertent mistake that created nothing but confusion. They acted in the absence of a clear definition of the shore that should have been provided by the General Assembly. This year, we have a chance to get it right and guarantee an easily recognizable geographic area where beachgoers and property owners can peacefully co-exist and share the shore. This is a great step forward for the Ocean State!”
“All people should have access along the shore. Grandfather Ocean is medicinal to the human spirit—my people were stripped of access to Grandfather Ocean, our traditional place of ceremony and worship. The Narragansett aboriginal people have been the stewards of this land since time immemorial,” stated Bella Noka, Narragansett Tribal Elder. “Passage of the Shoreline Access bill is a must.”
“This bill recognizes the rights and privileges of the public to the shore that have historically been acknowledged and protected in Rhode Island,” said Julia B. Wyman, Director of the Marine Affairs Institute & Rhode Island Sea Grant Legal Program. “The commission heard from experts and the public regarding confusion on how to identify where those longstanding rights of the public exist. This bill uses science and historic practice to clarify how individuals can reasonably identify where the historic rights of the public to access the shoreline exist. I applaud Reps. Cortvriend and Filippi for leading their colleagues in the House on the introduction of this bill.”
“The Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association supports H 8055,” said Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association Executive Director, Greg Vespe. “Our members include many hundreds of anglers who fish the coast of RI. Many times we have been caught in-between our Constitutional rights to access the waterline and accusations from property owners who say they own the shoreline. This bill takes a big step toward clarifying where we have a right to access by establishing a visual line that marks the high tide line. We thank all involved with the commission that resulted in the creation of H 8055 and we look forward to it and a companion bill in the Senate both passing.”
Now that the legislation has received a committee hearing, the next steps include the bill being voted on and recommended for passage by the House Judiciary Committee, before being sent to the full House of Representatives for a floor vote. The bill would also need to clear the Senate before being sent to the Governor for his signature.
The Final Report of the House Study Commission on Shoreline Access can be found online, here.