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Shore subjects in R.I.: Limited beach access and the right to collect seaweed

On this Rhode Island Report podcast, Globe reporter Brian Amaral reviews the various battles over shoreline access

Globe reporter Brian Amaral talks about controversies over shoreline access in Rhode Island during the taping of the Rhode Island Report podcast.Carlos Muñoz

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island has nearly 400 miles of shoreline, but only a fraction of that coastline is accessible to the public.

So when the vast majority of an area is in private hands or under local restrictions, it inevitably means that some communities are being left high and dry.

On this summer episode of the Rhode Island Report podcast, Globe reporter Brian Amaral reviews a range of ongoing battles over beach access and equity here in the Ocean State.

Amaral explains that matters of shoreline access are such a significant issue in Rhode Island that:

  • The right to collect seaweed is guaranteed by Article 1, Section 17 of the Rhode Island Constitution.
  • The General Assembly this year considered legislation that would decriminalize trespassing along a 10-foot swath of the Rhode Island coast. And a House study commission on shoreline access issues will meet for the first time Aug. 26.
  • In the wealthy suburb of Barrington, the town has several public rights of way to the shore, but the streets surrounding many of them do not allow parking, and now some residents are objecting.
  • In the capital city of Providence, the state Coastal Resources Management Council recently voted to designate Public Street east of Allens Avenue as a public right-of-way, protecting it for public access in perpetuity.
  • In the seaside town of Narragansett, residents have filed a lawsuit to stop the Town Council from formalizing parking access on three local roads near a surfing hot spot.
  • In Westerly and other coastal communities, tensions are rising and lawsuits are being filed over fire districts that may or may not fight fires but often exert control over beach access.
  • In Charlestown, resident Scott Keeley has been arrested while collecting seaweed along the seashore. So now the shoreline rights advocate has ordered 1,000 tote bags emblazoned with the word “SEAWEED” on one side and Article 1, Section 17 of the Rhode Island Constitution on the other.

During the interview, Amaral reveals that despite all he has written about beaches, he actually prefers the woods.


Hear more by downloading the latest episode of Rhode Island Report, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player below:

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.