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.
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.
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.)