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3/5/2024 Sen. Gu, Rep. Cortvriend introduce package of bills to strengthen shoreline access
STATE HOUSE – Sen. Victoria Gu and Rep. Terri Cortvriend are sponsoring legislation to protect Rhode Islanders’ access to the shoreline.

“Our coasts, rivers, ponds and lakes are precious resources that make Rhode Island special,” said Senator Gu (D-Dist. 38, Westerly, Charlestown, South Kingstown). “These bills will give the CRMC and municipalities more tools to preserve historic rights-of-ways so that every Rhode Islander can enjoy them.”

The three bills would increase disclosure of shoreline access rights and conditions when buying an oceanfront property, allow towns to preserve recreation easements on abandoned roads, and allow the Coastal Resources Management Council to designate historical footpaths as rights-of-way.

“Last year we finally clarified and defined the public shoreline, allowing Rhode Islanders to comfortably enjoy their constitutional right to enjoy our coasts,” said Representative Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown). “But we still have work to do to protect our public access to the shore by preserving our rights-of-way. This package of bills gives towns and the CRMC the tools needed to preserve walking trails and ensures new homebuyers won’t be surprised by existing public access near their home.”

The first bill would educate new buyers of oceanfront property on Rhode Island shoreline access law and avoid surprises that might come up with the sale of the property. The bill (2024-S 2185, 2024-H 7376) would require sellers of oceanfront or shoreline property to disclose in writing any conditions of public access relating to the property, CRMC permits, or right of way across or adjacent to the property. It would also require the buyers of such properties to acknowledge, via disclosure forms, that they have read the public’s rights and privileges to the shore. A recent dispute over public access of a seawall shows that this disclosure is currently lacking.

The second bill would allow towns to preserve access to abandoned roads for walking, biking, or other recreational purposes. This option could help towns retain access to the shore at a time when sea level rise and frequent flooding is prompting them to consider abandoning low-lying coastal roads. Under current Rhode Island law the only option for a municipality that does not wish to maintain a road is to abandon it totally to the abutting private property owners. This bill (2024-S 2641, 2024-H 7645) would require a municipality, when abandoning a road, to vote on whether or not to preserve an easement for walking or other types of recreation.

“This bill is a great step forward,” said Michael Rubin, retired Rhode Island assistant attorney general and longtime coastal advocate. “It embodies the concept of doing no harm. Too often when towns abandon roads it harms the public by reducing access. This bill will allow those roads to continue to serve recreation and access to our natural resources.”

The third bill would allow the CRMC to designate historical footpaths as rights of way. Currently a pathway must have been used by carriages or vehicles to qualify as a potential right of way. This bill (2024-S 2634, 2024-H 7750) would repeal that condition, paving the way for the CRMC to protect historical footpaths used for shoreline access through official designation.

“Backcountry Hunters and Anglers is thankful for Senator Gu and Representative Cortvriend’s continued commitment to protecting and enhancing public shoreline access in the Ocean State, and we’re excited to see each of these bills come before the General Assembly,” said Mike Woods, chair of the New England Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

Senator Gu and Representative Cortvriend are also pushing for the General Assembly to include in the 2025 FY budget the necessary funding to allow the CRMC to dedicate more resources to rights-of-way research and designation, take enforcement action for existing rights-of-way, pay for rights-of-way signage and to take down unauthorized snow fences.

For more information, contact:
Tristan Grau, Publicist
State House Room B20
Providence, RI 02903