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Rhode Island


Beach access information is plentiful and there is greater than one access site per mile of coastline. The surfing areas in Rhode Island are generally in good shape. A comprehensive inventory of shoreline structures would be useful. The state should continue to work to limit the proliferation of shoreline structures, which now cover 25% of the shoreline in Narragansett Bay.

Rhode Island Ratings


(+) Climate change and consequential sea level rise is very much embedded in the state's coastal management policies, and the state is proactive in addressing the issue. The Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council (C4), established by Executive Order 14-01 in 2014, has produced informative technical papers of vulnerability assessments on Rhode Island's transportation assets based on analysis of sea level rise data and modeling. These documents are useful in guiding the state's priorities and decisions regarding its public infrastructure.

(+) The Coastal Resources Management Council has developed specific Special Area Management Plans (SAMPs) that provides more targeted regional management strategies beyond the general Coastal Resources Management Program, and encourages better local implementation.

(+) Coastal land in Rhode Island is well protected with statewide mandatory setbacks and designated Coastal Buffer Zones that preserve and/or restore the natural areas adjacent to important shoreline features. Buffer zones not only reduce the hazards of coastal erosion but also preserve the ecological systems.

(+) On Oct. 15, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency joined state and local dignitaries formally launching the Southeast New England Coastal Watershed Restoration Program, which serves as a framework to promote a broad ecosystem approach to protect and restore the coastal watersheds of Southeast New England (coastal areas from Westerly, R.I., to Chatham, Mass., including all waters of Rhode Island, southern Cape Cod, Narragansett Bay, and Buzzards Bay). The program, consisting of government and non-government organizations, is currently working collaboratively and innovatively to maintain and improve water quality and habitat conditions within these coastal watersheds. In collaboration with a diverse array of stakeholders, the program will focus on developing and promoting innovations in restoration and protection practices, development of new, more efficient technologies, and application of new policies to these new approaches. A critical element of this program will be to prepare for climate change impacts and highlight the need to build resilience into all decision-making. More info. More RI info.

(+) In June 2014 the Northeast Regional Planning Body announced the release of easy-to-use decision support tool containing thousands of interactive maps on the Northeast Data Portal, including some of water quality data for the northeastern states from Connecticut to Maine. Based on water quality data provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies, some maps display No Discharge Zones, impaired waters, and wastewater discharges. Also shown on the maps are boundaries of watersheds and subwatersheds in the region. To view the water quality maps, go here.

(+) An example of adaptation to sea level rise through managed retreat, removal of structures and paving, and replacement with "green infrastructure" is occurring at five streets that end at the bay along the Warwick coastline in Narragansett Bay, four in Riverview and a fifth in Conimicut. The street ends are being pulled back with the removal of asphalt and its replacement with a combination of rock-lined swales, earthen berms and plantings. What is happening in Warwick is part of similar projects in other coastal communities funded by a $1 million 2009 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grant. CRMC director Grover Fugate has described the road end projects as models for what can be adapted on a larger scale to meet the effects of sea level rise. Read more.

(+) Rhode Island is beginning work on a Beach Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) which will provide coastal communities with practical guidance for adapting to short-term and long-term shoreline change. Here is an 18-minute presentation on the project.

(+) The Northeast Regional Ocean Council (NROC) is a state and federal partnership that facilitates the New England states, federal agencies, regional organizations, and other interested regional groups in addressing ocean and coastal issues that benefit from a regional response. It is NROC’s mission to provide a voluntary forum for New England states and federal partners to coordinate and collaborate on regional approaches to support balanced uses and conservation of the Northeast region’s ocean and coastal resources.

(+) In October 2009 state officials announced a plan to borrow $135 million to fund water infrastructure projects across Rhode Island, the bulk of which – $92.15 million – will be used by the Narragansett Bay Commission and 10 municipalities to replace old and failing sewage systems. The $92.15 million includes $26 million from the federal economic stimulus law enacted in February 2009, with the rest coming from the R.I. Clean Water Finance Agency.

(+) In November 2008 the $359 million "CSO Phase One" project in Providence, Rhode Island was publicly commissioned. The project consists of a 3-mile-long tunnel designed to capture water from a 1-1/2 inch rainstorm and then pump it to the Fields Point sewage treatment plant. This should result in greatly reduced areas of shellfish bed closures.

(+) Rhode Island kicked off an innovative project in Fall 2008 to zone its offshore waters for diverse activities, including renewable energy development. The Ocean Special Area Management Plan (SAMP), developed by the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) and the University of Rhode Island (URI), was a two-year research and planning process that attempted to integrate the best available science with open public input and involvement. More info. The Ocean SAMP was approved by the CRMC in October 2010 and by the federal government (NOAA) in July 2011.

(+) About 60 to 70 volunteers planted approximately 2,500 plugs of American beach grass on a section of dunes at Narragansett's Town Beach in March 2008 in a “dune restoration” project.

(+) The Department of Environmental Management awarded nearly $4 million in state and federal grants to 27 entities across the state in March 2007 to restore water quality.

(+) Rhode Islanders passed a $19 million bond in the November 2004 elections that will provide money to upgrade local wastewater treatment facilities and provide municipalities grants to deal with stormwater discharges. As part of the stormwater grant program, beaches have been identified as a top priority.

(+) Rhode Island completed the Greenwich Bay Special Area Management Plan in 2005. The intent of this plan is to limit development on Greenwich Bay and improve water quality, recreation and fish harvests. The objectives of the plan include increasing the number of homeowners tied to public sewers, reducing the nitrogen discharged from local sewage treatment plants, ending beach closures because of waterborne bacteria by 2010 and opening half the bay to winter or year-round shellfish harvesting by 2020.

(+) On the dunes of barrier beaches, residential or non-water dependent structures that are more than 50% destroyed may not be rebuilt regardless of insurance carrier coverage.

(+) There is on average better than one public access site for every mile of shoreline.

(0) When Hurricane Bob passed over Rhode Island in August of 1991, it caused a storm surge of 5 to 8 feet along the Rhode Island shore. The "Perfect Storm" also hit the state during the same year.

(-) The state does not have any specific policies for dealing with repetitive coastal damage. Such policies should include plans for buyouts, relocation, and retrofitting.

(-) In April 2013 came word that the famous Ruggles surf spot in Newport was threatened by a proposed project to re-armor and repair the city’s popular 3.5-mile Cliff Walk. A public notice filed on March 5th by Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Management Council outlines the “proposed emergency repairs,” which consist of “restoration of damage to the Cliff Walk resulting from the impact of Post Tropical Storm Sandy.” The proposed project begins at The Breakers at Ruggles Avenue and continues to Bailey’s Beach at Bellevue Avenue and includes slope protection measures; repairs to structural walls and drainage; walkway and safety improvements; and installation of new decorative railings and landscaping. Most concerning for surfers, however, is the CRMC’s desire to install permanent armor stone fill below the mean high water elevation at three different spots along the Cliff Walk. Due to significant public outcry, the plans were changed and the threat to Ruggles has evidently been been averted.

(-) In Narragansett Bay, 25% of the shoreline is armored.

(-) Aside from the public beach areas, the state agencies and coastal towns are not typically concerned with the conditions of surfing areas because they are not high-use public areas. Rhode Island does not recognize surfing as an economic, cultural, and recreational resource.


  • Say NO to a Ban on Plastic Bag Bans in Rhode Island! The Surfrider Foundation Rhode Island Chapter worked closely with our Northeast Regional Manager and partners to squash a sneaky attempt in the last days of legislative session to ban plastic bag bans in the state. Each municipality in Rhode Island relies upon local data to solve local problems—hindering that process at the state level is unacceptable. Plastic pollution is overwhelming. It threatens water quality, human health, beaches and wildlife. It damages recycling equipment. Thousands of volunteers across the state invest their time and energy in cleaning up single-use plastics, and our municipalities should continue to have the right to decide if and how to address this problem! That's why we acted promptly to oppose H5946 - a bill written by and for plastics manufacturers who pushed an amendment in the final days of this session that would BAN PLASTIC BAG BANS at the local level and RESCIND the three municipal ordinances on record to date. This was an underhanded maneuver aimed at taking local rights away from Rhode Islanders...and our lawmakers saw it for what it was. Thanks to all who joined the Surfrider Foundation Rhode Island Chapter & our friends at Upstream and Clean Water Action Rhode Island in saying NO to H5946! Because of our chorus of voices speaking out against this effort, we prevailed!
  • Northeast Regional Ocean Planning We are pleased to announce that on December 7, 2016, the National Ocean Council certified the Northeast Regional Ocean Plan, launching us headlong into a more sustainable future and a paradigm shift in ocean management that looks at the ocean holistically as a system, rather than managing piecemeal by agency, spatial boundary, specific use, threat or species. Learn more by reading (and sharing!) our Coastal Blog. Now that the ocean plan is final, the Surfrider Foundation will engage in the vital work of implementation. Our staff and volunteers will continue to participate in ocean planning meetings to improve the iterative plan so that it best represents our goals in protecting the ocean and coastal ecosystems, and recreational areas. We'll be calling upon our ocean industry leader friends - surf shop owners, kayak tour guides, beachside pub and restaurant owners, SUP racers and the like - to help us engage locally as federal and state agencies begin to fully utilize the best practices established in the plan, and integrate the inherent expertise of our coastal communities and ocean users into decision-making processes that will inform the future of the sea.
  • Protect Matunuck! A longstanding case at Matunuck Beach in South Kingstown, Rhode Island resurfaced in 2016, when the owner of the Ocean Mist bar filed what was labeled as a maintenance permit application to the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), to try to protect his property from further erosion and total loss. As with all armoring projects, however, the proposal for more hard structure to be placed in front of one business means more beach loss and erosion for a neighboring spot. In this case, that would mean loss of public access to a really ripe surf break (learn more about Surfrider's Coastal Preservation initiative). Additionally, the proposal submitted was a far cry from a maintenance project. Because of pressure from the Surfrider Foundation's Rhode Island Chapter, Save the Bay and Conservation Law Foundation, who co-jointly filed a Motion for Declaratory Ruling asking CRMC to decide that the demolition & reconstruction proposal was not a repair & maintenance project, but rather a whole new project, in concert with this powerhitting trio showing up to the April 26, 2016 meeting prepared to object to this new proposal that was inaccurately masked as a maintenance permit, the applicant was forced to reconsider, and the faulty "maintenance" proposal was withdrawn. Read more.
  • Barrington’s Bag Ordinance Strengthened The Surfrider Foundation Rhode Island Chapter worked with their Northeast Regional Manager to urge the Barrington, RI town council to support amendments to its bag ban ordinance that would close loopholes that the plastics industry is currently exploiting to navigate around the ordinance's intents. Some stores have purchased thicker, handled bags labeled "reusable" to dispense for free, encouraging single-use behaviors and thwarting the ban. The Council has taken up the issue by starting discussions to amend their bag ban to strengthen the language and close the loopholes. To assist the Council with this, the Surfrider Foundation Rhode Island Chapter submitted testimony to the Council to offer specific recommendations to include ALL three of these amendments in concert:
   - Increase the thickness to define single-use plastic bags as those less than 4 ml;
   - Require a mandatory, minimum fee on all reusable bags distributed; and
   - Require a mandatory, uniform fee on all paper bags distributed.

The public hearing was held at the Barrington Town Hall on Monday, February 1, 2016 @7PM, where the amendments passed, 3-2.

  • World Oceans Day Resolution in Rhode Island! The Surfrider Foundation Rhode Island Chapter submitted a letter of support for a resolution to formally recognize June 8, 2015, as World Oceans Day. The resolution was championed by The Ocean Project and supported by the Chapter as an effective way to draw statewide attention to the need to protect and enjoy the ocean, waves & beaches we all love. The House & Senate passed identical resolutions, HB6283 & S0965, on June 4, 2015.
  • Rec Use Characterization Proposal The Surfrider Foundation Northeast Region is heavily engaged in Regional Ocean Planning efforts. Our goal is to be proactive in protecting coastal and ocean ecosystems and recreational areas, before they're threatened. Along with strong partner organizations, SeaPlan and Point 97, Surfrider Foundation submitted a project proposal for the Northeast Regional Planning Body's RFP, to develop products characterizing spatial patterns of coastal and marine recreational activity in New England. Our proposal was selected, and we will be leading the way for everyday ocean recreation users - like surfers, beach strollers, wildlife watchers, kayakers and divers - to fill a data gap in the Northeast that will assist ocean planners in considering recreational areas as they plan to organize for current and future uses of the sea. Contact our Northeast Regional Coordinator for more information:
  • Beach Access Litigation Victory A bad surveying job erroneously landed a nearly 2-million dollar new home on private property that has been made available for public use by the Nulman family, at Rose Nulman Park in Narragansett, Rhode Island. The oceanside Rose Nulman Park, which is located to the north of the Point Judith lighthouse (on the west side of the entrance to Narragansett Bay), affords an important point of public access to the beach and ocean in an area that is otherwise surrounded by cliffs and private property. The owner of the offending property was ordered to move or demolish his house from the Nulman property; he appealed this decision. The Surfrider Foundation Rhode Island Chapter intervened, led by the generous support of Attorney Brian Wagner, by joining the suit as amicus in late 2013 to support continued public beach access and the Nulman family. On June 13, 2014, the Rhode Island Supreme Court issued its opinion in favor of the Nulmans, affirming the lower court's decision, calling for the offending structure to be demolished or removed in an appropriate timeframe. The Court cited its gratitude for Brian's brief in a footnote reading, "This Court is indebted to amicus curiae the Surfrider Foundation for its eloquent and helpful brief." Had the Court sided with the private property owner in this case, very bad precedent would have been set for parklands and public ocean access ways in Rhode Island. Such a ruling could have encouraged other developers to build on public property without permission and then later try to get "after the fact" permission in court.
  • Ruggles is Saved! Ravaged by Sandy, the popular Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island, is on deck for some hefty repairs. Repair plans proposed by the RIDOT in March of 2013, however, called for placement of huge jetties...smack dab in the middle of one of New England's most popular surf breaks, off Ruggles Ave. An outpouring of support from the global surf community coupled with local efforts led by surf icon, Sid Abruzzi and activist Dave McLaughlin, drew attention to the serious flaws in the original repair plans. Surfrider Foundation's Rhode Island Chapter kept close tabs on the situation throughout the process, wagering a statement of concern regarding the jetties, attending meetings to review plans, and reporting out to the community. Rhode Island's Coastal Resource Management Council held a public meeting July 17, where lower impact, surfer-friendly plans for the Cliff Walk repair were discussed & approved! Major shout outs to the Rhode Island Chapter & to activists near and far who chimed-in to protect this popular surf spot!
  • Barrington RI Plastic Bag Ban On October 1st, 2012 Barrington became the first city in the Ocean State of Rhode Island to adopt a ban on plastic checkout bags at local stores and restaurants. In addition to the plastic bag ban, retailers have the option of charging five cents for paper bags as an incentive for customers to remember their reusable bags. Surfrider Rhode Island Chapter members were involved at all stages of the process, submitting support letters to decision makers and speaking in support at public meetings. Big kudos to all of the chapter activists involved and thanks to our friends at 5 Gyres for their support. Read more.
  • Stopped Reclassification of Shoreline in Rhode Island The Surfrider Foundation advocates actions to promote long-term beach preservation for the benefit of the public. In high erosion areas such as Matunuck, RI, Surfrider does not support the installation of hard stabilization or sand retention structures along the coastline. Such structures can temporarily protect existing coastline development but have no place in beach preservation. The Town of South Kingstown had petitioned the Coastal Resource Management Council (CRMC) to 1) allow for the construction of a sheet pile wall to protect Matunuck Beach Road from erosion; and 2) re-classify a portion of the existing coast as man-made to allow for seawalls to be built. On April 16, 2012, the Coastal Resources Management Council voted 7-2 against plans to build a 200-ft retaining wall in South Kingstown during a meeting in Narragansett packed by about 200 people. This was a huge win for the Rhode Island Chapter as they had collaborated with national coastal experts, presented their case in front of the Town of South Kingstown and CRMC and submitted various comments for review in the case. Read more. The final part of this victory came on April 24 when the CRMC voted to deny the town’s petition to reclassify a 1,400-foot stretch of coastal Matunuck as “manmade shoreline,” which would have allowed private property owners to apply to construct structured shoreline protection systems in an attempt to stem erosion.

To see all of Surfrider Foundation's coastal victories and campaigns, go here.

State of the Beach Report: Rhode Island
Rhode Island Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
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