On June 26, Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee signed into law the Shoreline Access Bill, which establishes more recognizable boundaries for public shore access in the state’s coastal zones.
The new law allows the public to access the coastal shore up to 10 feet landward of the “normal high tide line”, made recognizable by “seaweed, scum and other deposits” left by the high tide. A previous court ruling had established a shoreline boundary at the mean high tide line, based on projecting the 18.6-year average of high tide elevations on the dynamic shoreline. However, this made it all but impossible for the public, and law enforcement, to determine where the boundary was.
In addition, the new law exempts owners of shoreline property from liability for the public’s activities or accidents that occur in that area—a major concern of opponents of the bill.
RI’s Coastal Resources Management Council, in coordination with the Department of Environmental Management and the RI Attorney General, will also develop resources to educate the public and private landowners on the law’s practical application.
A landowner group called RIACT has already filed a lawsuit against state officials in the hopes of overturning the legislation. The group contends that the new law amounts to a “taking” of what was formerly private property without compensation.