By ecoRI News staff
The Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office, Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), City of Newport and Howard Wharf LP have reached a preliminary agreement to restore public access to an obstructed right-of-way at Newport Harbor. The agreement will restore access to a Lee’s Wharf right-of-way and make site improvements.
As part of the plan, the Town of Newport will relocate a large electrical panel that currently blocks views of the water and removes invasive vegetation. Working with Howard Wharf, the owner of the adjoining property, the town will also be making cosmetic upgrades, including lighting, benches and new landscaping. Howard Wharf will provide a 5 foot public easement along the south side of the designated right-of-way to counter obstacles that could not be moved due to cost, including the city-owned water pumping station which serves neighboring properties.
The proposal will be the subject of public comments and a review by the CRMC in the coming months, according to the attorney general’s office.
“Since the founding of Rhode Island, access to this coastline has been guaranteed to the public, and yet, over the years, many legally designated rights of way have been illegally blocked by private or semi-private entities,” he said. said Attorney General Peter Neronha. “That must change, and we are actively working with our government and non-government partners to restore access to the coastline for the people of Rhode Island where it is guaranteed by law.”
CRMC and the Attorney General’s Office, in coordination with Save The Bay, have established a initiative to clear obstacles in existing rights-of-way designated by the CRMC. The influence of Lee’s Wharf had been cited as a problem by several stakeholders, including Friends of the Waterfront and Clean Ocean Access.
In the summer of 2020, CRMC issued a notice of violation to the City of Newport after assessing the obstructions. Around the same time, Friends of the Waterfront sent a letter to the city detailing concerns about obstructions to the right-of-way, which was established in 1988, according to records.
After months of stakeholder engagement and coordination between the parties, the plan to restore public access to the right-of-way was embodied in an agreement signed in early October.
The implementation timeline is dependent on Howard Wharf obtaining separate approval from CRMC and state and local regulators to build a hotel in the parking lot adjacent to the Lee’s Wharf right-of-way. The plan includes relocating the electrical panel on the proposed hotel property.
If the hotel project does not go ahead, the city, CRMC and the attorney general’s office are required to create another plan. As an interim measure, the City will remove invasive vegetation by this spring.
Under state law, the Attorney General’s Office and CRMC have the power to enforce public access to rights of way.