High court: Public not allowed on stretch of Misquamicut Beach

(Adam Theroux/WPRI)

WESTERLY, R.I. (WPRI) — The battle over a two-mile stretch of the Westerly shoreline has come to an end as a Rhode Island Supreme Court justice has ruled in favor of those who own beachfront property there.

Justice Gilbert V. Indeglia on Monday affirmed a lower court’s decision that the portion of Misquamicut Beach is in fact privately owned.

Attorney General Peter Kilmartin filed a lawsuit against the current property owners back in 2012, seeking to prevent them from being able to deny the public access to that stretch of beach by building fences and posting signs.

The case went to trial in Washington County Superior Court in 2014. The state argued that when the property lines were drawn up back in 1909, the original owners laid out the northerly, easterly, and westerly boundaries but had left the shoreline open to the public, creating an “unbroken beach” from Watch Hill to Weekapaug.

The defendants made the case that the beach is included in the owners’ private property, with respect to the individual lots. The judge ruled in favor of the property owners, saying the 1909 documents were not sufficient to prove the original owners’ supposed intent to allow public access to the beach.

Kilmartin expressed his disappointment with the outcome in a statement Monday.

“Among all the things we hold dear as Rhode Islanders, unfettered access to our shoreline is among the highest. We initiated the lawsuit to end a long-standing dispute over the public’s right to use and enjoy the two-mile stretch of beach along the Misquamicut coastline. Although we are disappointed in the opinion, it was the right decision to bring the matter before the Court to determine the intent of the original landowners more than 100 years ago.”

Visitors to the area on Tuesday were equally dismayed by the news.

“It’s upsetting because I don’t want to stop walking if I’m going on a long walk on the beach,” said Olivia Marrone. “The beach is supposed to open to everybody. You can’t just own a part of the beach.”

“To feel like you’re cut off and you can’t go to certain areas makes you feel like you’re excluded for nothing,” added Kristina Morley. “Why would we be excluded from it? ”

Kilmartin also thanked the organizations who provided support to the state in the case.