Changing High Tides Challenge Public Access to Shoreline

Rhode Island’s shoreline is changing faster from sea level rise and erosion than the law can keep up with.

The ‘mean high water’ line, which is set by averaging the high-tide mark over the previous 18 years, is the boundary the state uses to differentiate private coastal land and publicly owned ocean. But with a shifting and eroding shoreline, that boundary is being pushed back onto private property, leaving homeowners and the public at odds about who can access what.

“I would be one to say we need a formula that is more flexible that acknowledges that in a dynamic shoreline, the method of determining [what] is public and private is not adequate,” said Dennis Nixon, Director of Rhode Island Sea Grant and professor of Marine Affairs at the University of Rhode Island, in the Providence Business News (PBN) regarding a case now being argued in the Superior Court. “This is where law and nature run into each other.”

Several homeowners with property in Misquamicut have been sued by the Attorney General, Peter F. Kilmartin, as a result of erected fences intended to keep people off private property, which are being argued to interfere with public access to an area east of Misquamicut State Beach.

This is only one of many cases in a history of public access disputes in the state that may redefine coastal property law in Rhode Island.

“I would say it is extremely important for all of Rhode Island for the fact that both sides have gone into this realizing the law in this area is not as clear as it could be,” said Nixon in the PBN.

 + Read More

 

For more information on how Rhode Island’s shoreline is changing and it’s implications, please visit the Beach SAMP project page