Photo by Brian C. Jones

House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi today announced the appointment of the members of a special legislative committee that will study the issue of public access to the shoreline under legislation sponsored by Rep. Terri Cortvriend and passed by the House in June.

Under the resolution (2021-H 5469A) that created it, a press release from the Rhode Island General Assembly states that the 12-member special legislative commission will study and provide recommendations on the issues relating to lateral access along the Rhode Island shoreline, with a goal of reporting back to the General Assembly next spring.

The commission will include Representative Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown), Rep. Blake A. Filippi (R-Dist. 36, New Shoreham, Charlestown, South Kingstown, Westerly); Michael Rubin, who will serve as a resident of a coastal community; Coastal Resources Management Council Executive Director Jeffrey Willis; 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 University of Rhode Island; Save The Bay Executive Director Jonathan Stone; land use attorney Mark P. McKenney; Mark Boyer of the Rhode Island Society of Professional Land Surveyors; retired Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Francis X. Flaherty and a representative of the Attorney General’s Office with experience in shoreline access issues, to be appointed by the attorney general.

An organizational meeting is planned for Thursday, August 26, at 2 pm at the State House.

The right of Rhode Islanders to access the shoreline has been inalienable since it was written into the state constitution in 1843, says the press release. “Yet exactly where the public shoreline ends and private property begins has always been as tumultuous and unsettled as the waves washing along Rhode Island’s shores”.

A 1982 state Supreme Court case established the boundary of the public’s shore access at the mean high tide line, defined as the average of high tides over an 18.6-year cycle, which continually changes with the shifting sands of the coast. The Supreme Court’s decision has led to much conflict because it is nearly impossible for anyone walking along the shore to know where that shifting line is. 

In 1986, the voters of Rhode Island overwhelmingly supported an amendment to the state constitution strengthening the description of the privileges to the shore enjoyed by Rhode Islanders.

“There have been disagreements about where the public’s access ends and private property begins for centuries. While there have been efforts to clarify the public’s rights over the years, rising sea levels and erosion are changing the coast, and creating more conflicts along the way,” said Representative Cortvriend in a statement. “There are many questions about how Rhode Island is supposed to determine and protect access rights, and we need to identify some clearer answers. I very much look forward to the interesting and important work of this commission.”

Ryan Belmore is the Publisher of What'sUpNewp. 
Belmore has been involved with What’sUpNewp since shortly after its launch in 2012, proudly leading it to be named Best Local News Blog in Rhode Island by Rhode Island Monthly readers in 2018, 2019, and 2020 and an honorable mention in the Common Good Awards in 2021.

Born and raised in Rhode Island, Belmore graduated from Coventry High School and the Community College of Rhode Island. In addition to living in Newport for 10 years, he has lived in Portsmouth, Coventry, Providence, Smithfield, Burrillville, and East Greenwich.

Belmore currently serves as Vice President of the Board Of Directors for Fort Adams Trust and on the Board of Directors for Potter League For Animals. He previously served on the Board of Lucy's Hearth and the Arts & Cultural Alliance for Newport County.

Belmore and his wife, Jen, currently live in Alexandria, Virginia, a move they made in 2021. Read more about that here - https://whatsupnewp.com/2021/09/letter-from-the-publisher-some-personal-news/

Belmore visits Newport every couple of weeks to support the 12+ paid contributors What'sUpNewp has on the ground across Rhode Island, a place he called home for 39 years.

Belmore is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers, Society of Professional Journalists, and the North American Snowsports Journalists Association.

In 2020, Belmore was named Member of the Year by LION and won the Arts & Cultural Alliance of Newport County's Dominque Award.
Belmore can be contacted at ryan@whatsupnewp.com and 401-662-1653.