RISAA's efforts to stop Misquamicut landowners from blocking shoreline access gets attention of Attorney General's office

It was 18 months ago that the RISAA Board of Directors received a complaint that some landowners along the 2 mile stretch of shoreline between the Quonny Breachway and the Westerly Town beach, along Atlantic Avenue, were blocking lateral access along the shore by erecting fences and calling the police when citizens dared to stop in front of "their private beach."

RISAA President Steve Medeiros visited the site and then made contact with CRMC, the Attorney General's office and other neighbors who were opposed to these shoreline actions of their own neighbors.

This led to RISAA hiring a lawyer who specialized in researching old property titles who found evidence that this stretch of shoreline properties had been originally deeded differently from most, and convinced the RISAA Board that it was worth continuing to pursue. A land surveyor who specialized in shoreline properties was then brought in and, now working with a special assistant to the Attorney General assigned to work with RISAA, found multiple landowners in probable violation.

"We're pleased that Attorney General Kilmartin has been a public access advocate in the past," said Medeiros. "We're grateful that he has been willing to assist us, and now take over this case. It should send a signal that the shoreline of Rhode Island belong to everyone."

Here is the Attorney General's Office press release:

Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General
150 South Main Street, Providence, RI 02903


Attorney General Kilmartin Files Lawsuit to Enforce Publicís Right to Use Misquamicut Beach
Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin today brought an action in Superior Court seeking to enforce the publicís right to enjoy a nearly two-mile section of the Misquamicut beachfront east of the State Beach. In particular, the action seeks to enjoin specific beachfront lot owners from interfering with the publicís right to use this dry sand area, alleging that this strand was dedicated to the public by a recorded 1909 plat. (A plat is a real estate map used to create a subdivision.)

ďUnfortunately, efforts by the Town of Westerly to settle this matter amicably with the defendants were not possible,Ē said Attorney General Kilmartin. ďThis is an issue that needs to be addressed once and for all to determine important property rights. It is my strong belief that no one is entitled to block access to Rhode Islandís beaches, and I will fight to protect these valuable resources for the citizens of both Westerly and all of Rhode Island.Ē

The Attorney General commended the leadership of the Town of Westerly for taking a balanced approach that respected the concerns of both the public and the private cottage and lot owners. Westerly officials thanked the Attorney General for his efforts to bring the matter to a conclusion. Town Council President Diana Serra thanked the Attorney General for keeping the Council informed and stated that the Council and the Town understood that this action was necessary to settle these issues once and for all, And that everyone involved, including the property owners and the public, deserve to have an answer. Town Manager Steven Hartford explained that there is a limit to what the Town can do on public access issues and it had become clear that this was going to have to be addressed at the Attorney Generalís level.

The original 1909 plat subdivided nearly 2 miles of Misquamicut shorefront south of Atlantic Avenue between what is now the State Beach and the Weekapaug Breachway. The action charges that the 1909 plat created both the current beachfront lots and a distinct beach strip between those lots and the ocean. It also created several rights-of-way connecting to that beach.

According to the Attorney General, the 1909 plat shows that these beachfront lots only extend to the base of the dunes as they existed in 1909. The assertion is that the oceanfront lying below the dunes was not included in the private lots; that this strip was set aside for the people.

No date has yet been set for a hearing or trial on this matter, but the Attorney General is aiming to obtain a decision prior to next summer. Anyone with information as to historic public use of this area is asked to contact the Attorney Generalís office.