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SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The public’s right to access Rhode Island’s shoreline — a precious resource in the eyes of many — is a hot-button issue.

Recently, Narragansett formed a special Coastal Access Improvement Committee. The seven-member body is charged with “advising on public access to the coast as guaranteed in the Rhode Island Constitution,” according to a description on the town’s website.

Its existence is partly a response to a growing trend of residential development in town where larger multi-story houses replace the traditional smaller homes and beach cottages of Narragansett.

The trend has some residents and officials concerned.  

“As this development occurs it is imperative that the Town of Narragansett take on the responsibility of protecting, enhancing, and formalizing public access points to the water,” the town explains.

Residents of Narragansett and other coastal towns – or anyone with a vested interest in coastal access such as surfers, anglers, swimmers, boaters and others – will have a chance to learn more this summer about issues related to shoreline public access in Rhode Island.

The R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council and Rhode Island Sea Grant will host a series of webinars this summer called, “Shoreline Access 101: What You Need to Know.” They will feature CRMC Executive Director Jeffrey Willis, who will explain the agency’s role in identifying and designating CRMC Rights-of-Way to the shore, best uses of shoreline access points, and current efforts by CRMC to improve shoreline access in the state.

“These webinars serve as an introduction to the CRMC’s renewed focus on shoreline public access,”  CRMC Chair Jennifer Cervenka said. “It’s clear the public is passionate about this topic, as is the agency, and we look forward to this being the start of a constructive dialog on improving access to public trust resources for all Rhode Islanders.”

Summer webinars will be followed by additional educational opportunities organized by the CRMC and Sea Grant. It’s part of a larger effort to improve shoreline public access, awareness and education through opportunities like the webinars, and in the future, improved signage and infrastructure, branding and messaging. The CRMC is also working to designate more rights-of-ways in locations throughout Rhode Island, including underserved and urban communities.

“One of the CRMC’s main charges and ongoing efforts is to designate rights-of-way to the shore, but last year especially highlighted the need for more and improved shoreline public access in Rhode Island,” Willis said. “People were trying to get outside and away from crowds, and faced some challenges. It illustrated to the CRMC that our agency must work to designate more points of access all over the state. We look forward to reaching our goal of one right-of-way per every mile of coastline, and continuing to work with our state, local, private and nonprofit partners to enhance existing access points.”

Anyone interested in the webinars can go to the CRMC web site for additional information and resources about shoreline public access: www.crmc.ri.gov/publicaccess.html, as well as www.shoreline-ri.com.

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