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RI BEACHES

Here’s who will serve on a commission looking into R.I. shoreline rights

People strolled along the shore at East Matunuck State Beach in South Kingstown, R.I. last year. State beaches are open to the public, but there can be conflicts on private shore property.Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

A new Rhode Island House study commission looking into the hotly contested subject of shoreline rights will meet for the first time Aug. 26 at the State House, according to the office of House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi.

The commission comes amid broader disputes in Rhode Island about where and how people should be able to access the state’s 400 miles of shoreline. Rhode Islanders have the constitutional right to traverse the shore below the mean high-tide line, to fish, to swim, and to even gather seaweed. But they need some way to get there, and once they’re there, conflicts often emerge with adjacent property owners.

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The members of a 12-member commission that’s supposed to sort it all out were announced today. They’ll specifically tackle lateral access -- in other words, the line along the shore where private property ends and public access begins. But they could also review related subjects.

The members are:

State Representative Terri Cortvriend, a Democrat representing Portsmouth and Middletown

State Representative Blake Filippi, a Republican representing New Shoreham, Charlestown, South Kingstown, and Westerly

Michael Rubin, representing coastal residents; Rubin lives in Pawtucket, which deals with its own access issues, and has ties to Westerly and Newport

Jeffrey Willis, executive director of the Coastal Resources Management Council

David Splaine, representing the Rhode Island Realtors Association

Julia Wyman, representing the Marine Affairs Institute and Rhode Island Sea Grant legal program at Roger Williams University

Dennis Nixon of the Marine Affairs department at the University of Rhode Island

Jonathan Stone, executive director of Save the Bay

Mark P. McKenney, a land use attorney

Mark Boyer of the Rhode Island Society of Professional Land Surveyors

Francis X. Flaherty, a retired Rhode Island Supreme Court justice

Someone from the attorney general’s office with experience in shoreline access issues who will be appointed by the AG.

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The commission will present findings and recommendations to the General Assembly next spring.

The R.I. House set up the commission after some lawmakers proposed a bill that would have decriminalized trespassing along a 10-foot swath of dry sand along the Rhode Island coast. Rhode Islanders have access rights below what’s called the mean high tide line, but that’s not an obvious measure on a particular day. Instead, it’s an average taken over 18.6 years. Advocates for the decriminalization bill said it would be simpler to just give Rhode Islanders the right to exercise their constitutional rights along a readily identifiable swath of land.

Shoreline property owners opposed that bill, and it did not pass.

(Note: The list originally released by the House of Representatives had two incorrect names on it. This article has been updated to reflect the correct names: Jonathan Stone, executive director of Save the Bay, and Julia Wyman, representing the Marine Affairs Institute and Rhode Island Sea Grant legal program at Roger Williams University.)


Brian Amaral can be reached at brian.amaral@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.