§ 46-23-1. Legislative findings.
(a)(1) Under article 1, § 17 of the Rhode Island Constitution, the people shall continue to enjoy and freely exercise all the rights of fishery, and the privileges of the shore, to which they have been heretofore entitled under the charter and usages of this state, including, but not limited to, fishing from the shore, the gathering of seaweed, leaving the shore to swim in the sea and passage along the shore; and they shall be secure in their rights to use and enjoyment of the natural resources of the state with due regard for the preservation of their values; and it is the duty of the general assembly to provide for the conservation of the air, land, water, plant, animal, mineral and other natural resources of the state, and to adopt all means necessary and proper by law to protect the natural environment of the people of the state by providing adequate resource planning for the control and regulation of the use of the natural resources of the state and for the preservation, regeneration, and restoration of the natural environment of the state.
(2) The general assembly recognizes and declares that the coastal resources of Rhode Island, a rich variety of natural, commercial, industrial, recreational, and aesthetic assets, are of immediate and potential value to the present and future development of this state; that unplanned or poorly planned development of this basic natural environment has already damaged or destroyed, or has the potential of damaging or destroying, the state's coastal resources, and has restricted the most efficient and beneficial utilization of these resources; that it shall be the policy of this state to preserve, protect, develop, and, where possible, restore the coastal resources of the state for this and succeeding generations through comprehensive and coordinated long range planning and management designed to produce the maximum benefit for society from these coastal resources; and that preservation and restoration of ecological systems shall be the primary guiding principle upon which environmental alteration of coastal resources will be measured, judged, and regulated.
(b)(1) That effective implementation of these policies is essential to the social and economic well-being of the people of Rhode Island because the sea and its adjacent lands are major sources of food and public recreation, because these resources are used by and for industry, transportation, waste disposal, and other purposes, and because the demands made on these resources are increasing in number, magnitude, and complexity; and that these policies are necessary to protect the public health, safety, and general welfare. Pursuant to 16 U.S.C. § 1452 ("The Coastal Zone Management Act"), the general assembly hereby directs the council (referred to as "CRMC") to exercise effectively its responsibilities in the coastal zone through the development and implementation of management programs to achieve wise use of the land and water resources of the coastal zone.
(2) Furthermore, that implementation of these policies is necessary in order to secure the rights of the people of Rhode Island to the use and enjoyment of the natural resources of the state with due regard for the preservation of their values, and in order to allow the general assembly to fulfill its duty to provide for the conservation of the air, land, water, plant, animal, mineral, and other natural resources of the state, and to adopt all means necessary and proper by law to protect the natural environment of the people of the state by providing adequate resource planning for the control and regulation of the use of the natural resources of the state and for the preservation, regeneration, and restoration of the natural environment of the state.
(c) That these policies can best be achieved through the creation of a coastal resources management council as the principal mechanism for management of the state's coastal resources.
(d) The general assembly recognizes and declares that maintenance dredging is required to remove natural silt accumulations; Rhode Island has not had a general maintenance dredging policy and programs for ports, port facilities, channels, harbors, public and private marinas and boating facilities, recreational facilities and habitat areas; other major coastal states have maintenance dredging policies and in-water maintenance dredge disposal sites; as a result of the lack of a general maintenance dredging policy and program and as a result there has been:
(1) A decrease in the depth of the Providence Channel from forty-four (44) feet in 1971 to twenty-four (24) feet in 1996;
(2) Navigational restrictions on ocean going vessels through the state's waterways and channels; and
(3) A decrease in the number of available slips and moorings at marinas throughout the state; and the lack of a maintenance dredging policy and programs have significant adverse environmental and economic effects on the state and therefore it is in the best interest of the state, the cities and towns of the state, and the citizens thereof for the state to have a general maintenance dredging policy and programs to resolve issues related to dredge maintenance and disposal and avoid future significant direct and indirect adverse impact on the environment and economy of the state.
(e) The coastal resources management council is hereby designated as the lead state agency for purposes of dredging in tidal waters and as such shall have the following duties and responsibilities:
(1) To coordinate the interest of the state with regard to dredging;
(2) To formulate and adopt a state policy with regard to dredging which integrates those interests;
(3) To cooperate with, negotiate, and to enter into agreements on behalf of the state with the federal government and with other public bodies and private parties with regard to dredging;
(4) To act as the initial and primary point of contact for all applications to the state for dredging projects in tidal waters;
(5) To develop, prepare, adopt pursuant to § 46-23-11, implement, and maintain a comprehensive plan for dredge material management; and
(6) To cooperate and coordinate with the departments of environmental management, transportation, administration, and health, and the economic development corporation in the conduct of these duties and responsibilities.
(f)(1) The legislature recognizes that under Article I, § 17, the submerged lands of the state are impressed with a public trust and that the state is responsible for the protection of the public's interest in these lands. The state maintains title in fee to all soil within its boundaries that lies below the high water mark, and it holds that land in trust for the use of the public. In benefiting the public, the state preserves certain public rights which include, but are not limited to, fishery, commerce, and navigation in these waters and the submerged lands that they cover.
(2) Since its establishment in 1971, the CRMC has had the authority to manage and plan for the preservation of the coastal resources of the state including, but not limited to, submerged lands. The legislature hereby declares that, in light of the unique size, scope, and overall potential impact upon the environment of large scale filling projects involving twenty-five (25) acres or more, any lease of tidal lands, or any license to use those lands, is subject to approval, disapproval, or conditional approval by the direct enactment of the general assembly by legislative action. The CRMC shall review all requests for leases, licenses to use the land, and other authority to use the land made by any applicant prior to presentation of the request to the general assembly, and the CRMC shall make recommendations on the request to the general assembly. With the exception of any and all projects to fill land of twenty-five (25) acres or more, the general assembly hereby recognizes and declares that the CRMC is delegated the sole and exclusive authority for the leasing of submerged and filled lands and giving licenses for the use of that land. Accordingly, the CRMC will develop, coordinate, and adopt a system for the leasing of submerged and filled lands, and licenses for the use of that land, and will ensure that all leases and licenses are consistent with the public trust. Pursuant thereto, the CRMC shall impose a maximum fee of eighty thousand dollars ($80,000) per annum for any transatlantic cable that makes landfall in Rhode Island. All such fees collected shall be deposited into the Bays, Rivers and Watersheds Fund, established pursuant to § 46-31-12.1, and shall be disbursed according to the purposes of that fund. Nothing contained in this subsection negates, repeals, or alters the provisions, processes, and requirements for the leasing of submerged land for the conduct of aquaculture as set out under chapter 10 of title 20. Therefore, nothing in this chapter shall be construed to limit or impair the authority of the state, or any duly established agency of the state, to regulate filling or dredging affecting tidal lands owned by the state or any other entity, and nothing in this chapter shall be construed to limit or impair the obligation of the applicant to obtain all applicable regulatory approvals. Specifically, and without limiting the foregoing, nothing in this subsection negates, repeals, or alters the provisions, processes, and requirements for water quality certification contained in chapter 12 of this title.
(i) "Filled land" means portions of tidal lands which have been rendered by the acts of man to be no longer subject to tidal action or beneath tidal waters.
(ii) "Tidal Lands" means those lands that are below the mean high water.
(iii) "Mean high water" means a line of contour representing the 18.6 year average as determined by the metonic cycle and/or its equivalent as evidenced by the records, tidal datum, and methodology of the United States Coastal Geodetic Survey within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
(P.L. 1971, ch. 279, § 1; P.L. 1996, ch. 271, § 2; P.L. 1996, ch. 281, § 2; P.L. 2000, ch. 314, § 3; P.L. 2007, ch. 73, art. 30, § 3.)