RI Beach Access Conflicts

Conflicts have been heating up this year with the passage of stronger public shore access rights in RI.

More of the general public are understanding and standing by their access rights, in face of irked “private beach” owners and their security.

These types of conflicts are happening across the shoreline communities. I personally believe in more public access. As a property owner and tax payer in Boston, I helped contribute to the billions of dollars that allowed the clean up of the Mass Bay waters. This has contributed to escalating property values of the shoreline homes, but I don’t believe the benefits should just be accrued to these folks without benefits to the general public. It is a parallel situation with these same shore line owners asking for publicly subsidized flood insurance and well as for shore remedies to address the erosion of the shoreline by storms and rising sea levels.


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I am familiar with that area. It is not far from Wickford Harbor. Couple of years ago I got out of my canoe and was standing in ankle deep water in Wickford Harbor when a nearby homeowner came over and told me I was trespassing. I got back in my boat and left - not worth fighting about it.

Beach access in RI is guaranteed in the state constitution, so this is a fight that is not going away. Until the new law went into effect, the public had lateral access to the beach up to “mean high tide” as defined in a legal case from 1982. Problem was there was no visual way to determine where mean high tide was (it changes over time), and in locations with substantial beach erosion, mean high tide was actually under water all the time.

The new law attempted to fix this problem by designating that the public has lateral access to the beach up to 10 feet landward of the visible high tide line – the line that is recognized by seaweed, shells, or other debris left by the tide. There are lots of lawsuits working their way through the courts claiming that this is an unconstitutional seizure of property. Hate to say it, but I think that they will probably win. Lawmakers got greedy when the added the extra 10-feet.

This guy was clearly a jerk, but if I spent a lot of money to buy a house on the beach, I wouldn’t want to have people trapsing all over my property. In some cases, homeowners do in fact own the beach. Other side of the coin, if you buy a house on a beach that has had public access for years (like this area in North Kingstown), good luck trying to keep people out, regardless of the law.


By the way, agree with you on federal flood insurance. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for people to repeatedly rebuild homes destroyed by storm surge. Trouble is, it is tough to take a government benefit away from anyone once they have it.


It’s a stretch to even call the current system “insurance” … it’s more of an entitlement for wealthy beachfront property-owners … and most politicians are loathe to take away entitlements for their wealthy constituents.

Having lived in RI for 11 years - where I started sea kayaking, growing up in NH and MA, and now living in FL for 10+ years, the difference in public access between FL and the northeast is pretty drastic. I remember wanting to paddle in places in RI but not being able to find access. What access existed was often boat ramps, not ideal for kayaks. Sometimes local knowledge helped, but sometimes there was just no access. I move to FL, and there is access everywhere here! Often free, or $5 for most of the fabulous state park system. A lot of bridges or causeways have free access at the ends. Tons of boat ramps, most have multiple lanes as opposed to the single lane ramps up north; and many have dedicated kayak launches as well. Yes there are squabbles about access on the beach here too, but for most paddlers that’s not where we want (or need) to launch. Florida definitely has its issues, but water access is something they do well.

Not all those people are wealthy. I live 30 feet above mean high water, I have Federal Flood Insurance even though I have no access to the water. I can see it from my house, down at the end of the street and across the marshes. This is a working class neighborhood, nothing special about my little 1300s/f house.

You’re right - we really shouldn’t be picking on federal flood insurance. It actually does a pretty good job of identifying high risk areas and charging appropriate premiums. I don’t know a lot about the program (enough to be dangerous) but I do know that they have been working to increase rates in high risk areas, and reduce discounts. For many that has meant higher prices. Good that you purchase the coverage.

My city - far from the coast on a flood-prone river - is protected by a 1950’s era Army Corps of Engineers flood control project. When the city didn’t maintain the structures a few years ago, the discount for protection was removed, and the cost of flood insurance went up considerably. It caused huge problems for people. They eventually repaired the structures and the rates dropped again, so the program worked. For good or bad, abandoning a good part of a city of 40,000 people that happed to be built in a floodplain 150-years ago just isn’t an option.

Same problem exists for hurricanes on the south coast and wildfires out west.

I find there are lots of public access points in RI. The problen isn’t getting on the beach, the problem is parking your car. That seems to be how most communities around here control access.

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You are definitely right. For me, I generally wasn’t looking for access to the beach per se, but access to launch a kayak. But I can think of several access points like what you mentioned in the town I lived in (Jamestown) - access, but no or very little parking. They weren’t helpful to me because I couldn’t have launched a kayak there even if I could park, but I know exactly what you mean.

You’re right, @SailingSpark, not all are wealthy. As we saw with Hurricane Katrina (and many times since), it’s often the least affluent neighborhoods that are most prone to flooding. Due to more frequent and more costly flood events, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) has been in the red since 2005; the total negative balance as of last fall was $20.5 billion. I do not blame NFIP or FEMA. They have submitted several reforms to Congress that could help balance the books, but Congress has so far refused to act. Call me cynical, but my suspicion is that their refusal has more to do with pleasing wealthy constituent/donors than it does with wanting to do more for those that need it most.

I run into this problem all the time usually its some Karen. I just say I am stopping, taking a short break to stretch and advise them I am completely uninterested in their opinion as I stretch, take a drink or a break. Not much they can do.

The town south of here is very rich, like full of Doctors and Lawyers rich. It has two public boat ramps that are free to use. The kicker is, they are half a mile out into the marshes and you have to pay to park your rig. So, if you do not mind the walk and trust that your boat will still be there, you could use them for free, otherwise it is $125 a year for a parking permit.

The town north of me has a completely free ramp with no fees parking or not. It’s a poor town, but the facilities are actually nicer than the rich town. The town north of that one only charges parking fees if you have a trailer. I do not mind that one too much.

So, I consider myself wicked lucky with my north shore homebreak. It’s 20-30 minute drive from my house in predawn traffic. The “shore drive” next to the rocky beach break (state land) is all FREE public parking (learned the hard way tho’ to not park past 8 AM on Thursday mornings because of street sweeping…). Yesterday, I found brand new shower sprinklers along the sea wall, every several blocks. Talk about welcoming surfers and swimmers. How cool is that!?!

On Thursday street sweeps, I have parked on the residential streets that run in perpendicular to the shore drive without hassle. The 15 plus years of surfing this little town has been incredible (caveate - once accepted by the “local” surfing contingent and beach walkers). I don’t want to pinch myself in case I wake to find myself dreaming and that, in reality, I have go through rigermarole to try to surf one of the chi-chi coastal towns around the South Shore of MA.

PS. Should also say that I am lucky with my south shore beach break, Nantasket Beach. It too is a state reservation with some free street parking and several massive parking lots that charge $15 per day during the summer season. However, as a resident senior, I bought a lifetime senior parking pass for $10. With this one time charge, I have unlimited access to the parking lots (provided I arrive early enough to beat the hordes of beachgoers in the summer).

I cannot complain… :slight_smile: :+1:


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