October 5, 2022

CRMC Nets $206,000 NOAA Grant to Examine RI’s Shoreline Public Access Needs

WAKEFIELD, RI – The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (RI CRMC) has designated 235 rights-of-way to the shore under its program since 1978, working with municipalities, non-profits, and individual citizens to provide protection for these shoreline public access points against time, neglect, and other forces. In recent years, however, it has become clear that the distribution of those ROWs is uneven, and more attention to improving shoreline access for all Rhode Islanders is warranted.

Beginning this month, the CRMC, along with Rhode Island Sea Grant, the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NBNERR), and social and environmental science consulting non-profit Impact by Design, are embarking on a project funded by a $206,300 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The project will work to improve shoreline access in Rhode Island and seek community input to help foster partnerships and collaboration to further ROW identification and designation. The CRMC was one of only seven coastal states awarded funds in a highly competitive grant process.

Numbers of CRMC-designated rights-of-way vary widely by municipality; for example, Bristol has 30 and Narragansett has 13, while Providence and Cranston each have three. People living in communities with fewer ROWs, particularly areas with substantial populations of minority and low-income residents, may face exclusionary barriers and disparities when it comes to accessing the shore and clean coastal waters.

The CRMC and its partners will conduct a needs assessment – led by Impact by Design – to gather information and listen to a wide array of citizens, coastal residents and visitors about real needs and wants for shoreline public access in their communities and what barriers exist that keep them from accessing and using the shore. This work will be followed by a stakeholder process, with the long-term goal of developing a five-year management plan – using the CRMC’s Special Area Management Plan development model – to address these issues and implement solutions.

“With rising seas and increasing storms to contend with, shoreline access points are changing,” said U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. “This federal funding will support CRMC’s effort to maximize Rhode Islanders’ ability to enjoy the water – an important part of our economy and way of life in the Ocean State.”

“With over 400 miles of beautiful coastline throughout the Ocean State, every Rhode Islander has a vested interest in ensuring there is adequate public access to public space. This federal grant will help examine how people reach the beach and ensure good stewardship of public resources. It will allow CRMC to gather community input and partner with local entities to identify new opportunities to improve shoreline access. This data could also help inform decisions about recreational infrastructure, transit routes, and conservation investments to maximize environmental, human health, and economic benefits for the state,” said U.S. Senator Jack Reed.

A crucial component of this year-long effort will be education and outreach on CRMC’s rights-of-way designation process and other public access related topics for stakeholders and CRMC’s Rights-of-Way Subcommittee, which rules on potential CRMC-designated ROWs. The needs assessment, stakeholder process, and education and outreach are expected to take between 12 and 18 months (with an extension), with the writing of the five-year Public Shoreline Access Management Plan (PSAMP) to follow. This project will offer multiple opportunities for public comment and feedback.

“The needs assessment and stakeholder process will provide guidance for CRMC staff and Council to ensure a more equitable and socially conscious rights-of-way designation and protection,” said CRMC Executive Director Jeff Willis. “This project will create an inclusive and impartial stakeholder group and process that will lead CRMC to the creation of its PSAMP, a first for Rhode Island.”

As trustee of Rhode Island’s coastal resources and in accordance with state and federal statutory mandates, the CRMC has a responsibility to ensure that public access to the shore is protected, maintained, and where possible, enhanced for the benefit of all. Beginning in 1978, the CRMC was tasked by the state legislature to carry out the continued discovery and designation of all public rights-of-way to the shore. The CRMC produces pamphlets and signs in several languages (English, Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Hmong, Laotian, and Cambodian) which establish a code of conduct while using ROWs. The pamphlets outline the public’s constitutional privileges to the shore, but also strongly emphasize the importance of respecting private property rights in the vicinity of ROWs.

NOAA awards the competitive funding under the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA)’s Enhancement Program Projects of Special Merit, authorized under Section 309 of the CZMA. The National Coastal Zone Management Program is a voluntary federal-state partnership that protects, restores, and responsibly develops coastal communities and resources by balancing economic development, coastal uses, and natural resource protection.  Senators Reed and Whitehouse helped secure $8.5 million for the Section 309 program nationwide and supported CRMC’s application.

For more information on the CRMC’s rights-of-way designation process, as well as other shoreline public access information, visit: http://www.crmc.ri.gov/publicaccess.html

Chip Unruh (Reed), 202-224-4642

Meaghan McCabe (Whitehouse), 401-453-5294

Laura Dwyer (CRMC), 401-783-7886

Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921