ecoRI News Roundup

Federal Judge Dismisses Suit Challenging Shoreline Access Law

PROVIDENCE — Shoreline activists around Rhode Island celebrated when a federal judge dismissed a legal challenge to the state’s new shoreline access law on September 19. 


The lawsuit, filed by the Rhode Island Association of Taxpayers (RIACT), claimed the law, which expands the boundary for public shore access to 10 feet from the lowest wrack, or seaweed line, was an unconstitutional seizure of private property without compensation, and that plaintiffs had a “fear of prosecution.” RIACT named Attorney General Peter Neronha, as well as Terry Gray, director of the state Department of Environmental Management, and Jeff Davis, director of the state Coastal Resources Management Council, as co-defendants. 

But the court didn’t see it that way. In his opinion, District Judge William Smith said RIACT was suing the wrong people in the wrong court for the wrong relief. Even if the lawsuit was decided in the plaintiff’s favor, wrote Smith, it would do nothing to prevent members of the public from accessing shoreline property, the very harm identified in RIACT’s original legal complaint. 

“RIACT must also show that the Defendants sued are the ones who acted wrongfully and are able to right the wrong specified in the complaint,” wrote Smith in his opinion. “If they cannot, the claim is not redressable and there is no standing.” 

Ultimately, said Smith, the plaintiffs had no standing to challenge the law in court. With regard to RIACT’s claims about a fear of prosecution over their members enforcing private property rights, Smith compared the argument to putting “lipstick on a pig.” 

DEM to Acquire 900 Acres of Land in Burrillville

BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — The state Department of Environmental Management will acquire more than 900 acres of land in town from the local Boy Scouts of America chapter for $1.61 million, according to a purchase and sale agreement approved by the State Properties Committee. 

The parcel on Buck Hill Road sits between the George Washington and Buck Hill Management areas and conservation land in Connecticut. 

“Once acquired, it will result in a total contiguous protected area of over 7,000 acres,” DEM’s chief public affairs officer Michael Healey

The land will be incorporated into the Buck Hill Management Area and managed by DEM’s Division of Fish and Wildlife for recreational purposes. 

About $1.2 million of the purchasing price was paid for by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Restoration Program, with the remaining money coming from a Rhode Island open space bond, according to Healey. 

Climate Activists Want to See RIDOT’s Carbon Reduction Plan 

A recent letter signed by a range of local climate and community advocates wants to know where the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s Carbon Reduction Plan is hiding. They noted the development of the plan represents a critical step in tackling greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. 

That sector, the state’s largest source of carbon emissions, is responsible for nearly 40% of the climate-changing pollution spewed locally. In fact, between 2016 and 2019, transportation emissions increased by nearly 9%. Rhode Island is trending in the wrong direction when it comes to mitigating the climate crisis. 

The 23 organizations, including the Acadia Center and Grow Smart Rhode Island, that signed the 5-page letter sent to RIDOT director Peter Alviti noted transportation is at the center of strategic actions the state needs to advance to meet Act on Climate mandates. 

The 2021 law requires the state to develop a plan to reduce all climate emissions from transportation, buildings and heating, and electricity to 45% below 1990 levels by 2030, 80% below 1990 levels by 2040, and net-zero by 2050. 

The act also requires the Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council (EC4) to update its plan for carbon reduction every five years and mandates the creation of an online transparent public dashboard to track emissions reductions and sources of energy annually. 

Despite the inclusion of the creation of a Carbon Reduction Plan (CRP) in the EC4’s 2022 Climate Update, the September 19 letter noted “there has been limited mention of the status of development of the plan throughout 2023 for engagement by stakeholders.” 

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