Plan to restore public access along Newport Harbor in the works

Environment

NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — The public will once again have access to Lee’s Wharf in downtown Newport, after the city, the R.I. Attorney General’s office and other stakeholders reached a preliminary agreement Wednesday.

Lee’s Wharf is currently overgrown with shrubs and other plants, obstructing the public’s view of the ocean. Attorney General Peter Neronha said Lee’s Wharf is one of 10 significant spots where public waterfront access has been obstructed statewide.

“This state is blessed with hundreds of miles of beautiful shoreline,” Neronha said. “Since the founding of Rhode Island, access to that shoreline has been guaranteed to the public, and yet over the years many legally designated rights of way have been unlawfully blocked by private or semi-private entities.”

“This must change, and we are actively working with our governmental and non-governmental partners to restore shoreline access to the people of Rhode Island where it is guaranteed by law,” he continued.

As part of the plan, Neronha said the city will clear the overgrown plants and relocate a large electrical panel that blocks the view of the ocean.

Courtesy: R.I. Attorney General’s office

Neronha said the city will also provide aesthetic improvements, including additional lighting, benches and new landscaping.

Howard Wharf LP, which hopes to build a hotel on the parking lot that abuts Lee’s Wharf, plans to provide a 5-foot easement to counteract obstructions that can’t be relocated, such as the city’s water pump station.

“Balancing development with the need to maintain access to Newport Harbor has long been a keystone issue for the city,” Newport City Manager Joseph Nicholson said.

Neronha said there are 222 public access spots across the state, many of which have already been cleared of obstructions or will be in the near future.

“The whole idea is that when someone’s walking along the waterfront and wants to go over and get close to the water and take a look at the harbor … the public has that right,” Neronha said. “We want to make sure they have it into the future.”

He expects the clearing of Lee’s Wharf to begin fairly soon, but not until Howard Wharf LP obtains separate approval from the Coastal Resource Management Council, as well as state and local regulators, to construct the hotel.

Howard Cushing, a principal with Howard Wharf LP, said they’re “delighted to have had the opportunity to work collaboratively with all parties to achieve a common goal, which protects public access to the Newport Harbor and the long-term goal of a continuous harbor walk.”

If the hotel project does not move forward, Neronha said an alternate plan will be created to ensure the shoreline isn’t obstructed. Either way, the city plans to clear Lee’s Wharf of the overgrown shrubs and plants by spring 2022.

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