Coastal homeowners file lawsuit against the state after shoreline access bill passes

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) — A lawsuit was filed by coastal property owners in Rhode Island over a bill that passed last month to expands shoreline access.

For years, there has been a debate on where beaches in Rhode Island go from public to private property. A bill that passed last month expanded the public beach area inland.

Representative Terri Cortvriend, who sponsored the bill, said the legislation is needed for those who use the beach to have legal access to the shoreline.

“There is a line that you can see with your eye, and because the mean high-water mark that came out of the Ibbison case — that has to be determined with surveying equipment while the casual beachgoer cannot see that line and the property owner for that matter cannot see that line,” Cortvriend said.

Rhode Island coastal taxpayers are now suing the state, arguing that the bill violates their rights to their own land.

“We were contacted by some Rhode Island coastal property owners almost a year ago about the pending proposal and legislature to redefine the public beach to extend it more to an upland area. We were asked about our opinion and it did pass and now we are involved,” said J. David Breemer, Senior Attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation.

Both sides gave their stance on whether or not they believe law is constitutional.

Cortvriend said, “The history of it and learning about what our constitution says and learning about the practices, they were misaligned to me. There was a constitutional amendment passed in 1986 and the privileges are pretty explicitly outlined but it does not say where.”

Breemer explained, “One of the great things about our system of government is that the ends don’t justify the means and there are certain ways to do things.  The government can do a lot but it can’t just take property without paying for it at the stroke of a pen. Otherwise all property could be taken by a majority in the legislature by passing a law and that is just not how our system works.”

Attorney General Peter Neronha said in a statement that he is grateful the general assembly recognized Rhode Islanders’ constitutional rights to shoreline access and further codified that right into state law. The office further announced that they stand ready to defend the law.

Categories: News, Rhode Island