opinion Newport Rhode Island

“We are all joined by a common interest, a common devotion and love for the sea.” 

Sixty years ago, President John F. Kennedy spoke those words right here in Newport, Rhode Island.

Nearly three hundred years prior, King Charles the Second, in the Royal Charter of Rhode Island declared the “free inhabitants… their heirs and successors… shall have full and free power and liberty to continue and use the trade of fishing upon the said coast, in any of the seas thereunto adjoining, or any arms of the seas, or salt water, rivers and creeks.”

And, roughly, somewhere in between these two proclamations, the Rhode Island Constitution of 1842 further established that “the people shall continue to enjoy and freely exercise all the rights of fishery, and the privileges of the shore… [including] leaving the shore to swim in the sea and passage along the shore.

Notwithstanding any entirely-substantiated eye rolls in regards to King Charles, colonialism, and the audacity required to dream up restricting access to something that never truly belonged to you in the first place… one would hope the idea that you “don’t mess with Rhode Islanders shoreline access” would be, by now, both evident and sacrosanct. 

And yet, stories ranging from microaggressions to full-fledged skirmishes to businesses straight up usurping our shores for personal gain are prolific.  

Developers with deep pockets, out-of-state vacation home seekers, ever-changing shorelines, ignorance, greed, and confusion are well-known characters in these recurring stories over Rhode Island’s coast.

Much of the muck slinging around this issue is often traced to the arcane – and ever- elusive – “mean high tide line” which waded into the shoreline conversation after a 1982 Rhode Island Supreme Court decision casually restricted Rhode Islanders’ constitutional rights and negated centuries worth of legislative intent. 

This past June, however, the House passed long overdue, bipartisan, and commonsense legislation (H 8055) which would restore Rhode Islanders’ constitutional rights and redefine the line that separates private from public land to a visible and recognizable high tide mark.

Representative Lauren Carson, a cosponsor of H 8055, has been a consummate champion for her district and, in particular, the environment. 

She was the lead sponsor on the Act on Climate bill – which Governor McKee signed into law – and which puts the Ocean State on a path to 100% renewable energy. 

A staunch supporter of protecting Narragansett Bay and a straight shooter, Representative Carson has proven to be an indispensable advocate at the State House.

I commend her continued work on shoreline access and look forward to voting for her – and other shoreline supporters – this November. 

Ryan Patrick Kelley, Newport