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Attorney General Kilmartin Files Lawsuit to Enforce Public’s Right to Use Misquamicut Beach

Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General

CONTACT: Amy Kempe
(401) 274-4400 x.2234
(401) 952-7726 cell
akempe@riag.ri.gov

September 18, 2012 – Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin today brought an action in Superior Court seeking to enforce the public’s 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 public’s 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.)

“Unfortunately, efforts by the Town of Westerly to settle this matter amicably with the defendants were not possible,” said Attorney General Kilmartin. “This 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 Island’s beaches, and I will fight to protect these valuable resources for the citizens of both Westerly and all of Rhode Island.”

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 General’s 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 General’s office.

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