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A lawsuit to keep the beach at Misquamicut open to the public

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published June 23. 2013 4:00AM

It turns out, according to Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, that Misquamicut is a surprisingly wide public beach, maybe wider and bigger than most people ever realized.

The width of the beach and the public's right to it is at the heart of a lawsuit Kilmartin has brought against some Misquamicut property owners who have been trying to keep the public from using some of the beach in front of their houses.

As an aside, I would note that Rhode Island is lucky to have an activist attorney general, protecting the public's right to use the state's beachfront.

In Connecticut, Attorney General George Jepsen can't even seem to go after the folks who made off with the Amistad, moving the ship to Maine, without accounting for the millions taken in Connecticut funding.

Anyway, Kilmartin got involved in the Misquamicut beach access issue at the invitation of an association of surf fishermen and the Westerly Town Council, which couldn't come to terms with the Misquamicut beachfront property owners.

The access issue arose after the owners of some of the beach houses began posting no trespassing signs at the end of public access rights of way to the beach that lead between their houses, from Atlantic Avenue to the ocean.

The homeowners' signs, still posted, direct people from the rights of way down toward the surf and the mean high water line, away from the wide sandy dunes in front of their houses.

"Land above the mean high line is private property." the signs at the right of way paths to the beach say. "Please respect the NO TRESPASS ordinance and respect PRIVATE PROPERTY."

Enter Attorney General Kilmartin.

The lawsuit filed by Kilmartin last year, expected to go to trial this September, claims the wide sandy swath of land between the mean high water mark and the dunes in front of the houses on Atlantic Avenue, about 80 feet wide in most places, was dedicated to the public back in 1909, when the lots were created.

The development was called Pleasant View Beach Lots.

Evidently, the developer of lots that are now located on the ocean side of Atlantic Avenue and on the bay side of the road, wanted everyone to have access to the beach, the lawsuit says.

According to the attorney general, the 1909 plot clearly shows the lots on the ocean side of Atlantic Avenue, and between the lots and the ocean is a long unbroken strip labeled "beach."

Hence, a long piece of beachfront, about 2 miles, from the State Beach all the way to the Weekapaug inlet, was dedicated to the public, according to the attorney general.

The public, meanwhile, has continued to use this "beach" area through the years, the attorney general says, through access provided by dedicated rights of way.

This distinguishes that long stretch of beachfront in Misquamicut from many other New England beaches, where private owners typically own all the way to the mean high water mark.

In fact, I visited the contested beachfront last week and noticed that you can look all the way down the beach to Watch Hill, where homeowners clearly own all the way to the ocean.

Indeed, you can see Taylor Swift's new oceanfront property from there, a swell site that runs from the street, up to the top of a very large bluff and back down to the mean high water mark and surf line.

I suppose that's part of what you get on the beach for $17.7 million: no hassles from the attorney general.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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