The RICKA Message Board

    Connecticut coastal access (Long, but worthwhile)

    Posted by Wayne Smith on 8/6/2001, 11:27 am

    It seems a lot of us who paddle the Connecticut shoreline have been misled for a long time. Most of the shoreline towns enforce a property owner’s rights to the low tide mark, and use the local police as muscle to do so. That part has been no great secret.

    However, with the recent Supreme Court decision that states that it is unconstitutional to exclude anyone from public land, another fact has been admitted to by the State of Connecticut in the 2001 version of the shoreline access guide: THE INTERTIDAL ZONE IN CONNECTICUT IS IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN, AND ALWAYS HAS BEEN. According to the Connecticut General Statues:

    Sec. 15-8a. "Harbor", "navigable waters" and "navigable waterways", defined. For the purposes of section 15-8:
    (a) "Harbor" means a place on navigable waters where water-borne commercial or recreational traffic enters for the purpose of anchorage or docking or the unloading or receiving of cargo, supplies, equipment, fuel or passengers;
    (b) "Navigable waters" means waters which are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide shoreward to their mean high-water mark;
    (c) "Navigable waterways" means waters which are physically capable of supporting water-borne traffic, and subject to the ebb and flow of the tide.
    (P.A. 77-71, S. 2, 3.)

    Which means that more towns than just Greenwich have been breaking the law for many years, and misrepresenting the actual law in an attempt to keep people from accessing public land. Further, any public shoreline property is required by state law to provide a public access to the intertidal zone:

    Sec. 15-12. Obstructions upon lands bordering navigable waters. The selectmen of any town bordering upon navigable waters shall cause to be removed all obstructions and structures from the shores, beaches or other land in such town, adjacent to such waters, to which shores, beaches or other land the public has the right of access or which the public has been accustomed to use, occupy or enjoy, unless such obstruction or structure has been erected or maintained by, or by the express or implied permission of, the person having title to the land on which it has been so erected or maintained or having a legal right to erect and maintain it thereon; and such selectmen may, in the name of the town, have equitable relief by way of injunction against any person who, without legal right, interferes with the use and enjoyment of such shores, beaches and lands by the public or attempts to exercise any exclusive possession or use of any part thereof.
    (1949 Rev., S. 4756.)

    I am not advocating some huge flotilla to land in someone’s back yard just to make a point. That wouldn’t go very far in making kayakers look like the reasonable party in this situation. What I am saying is that if you paddle in Connecticut, it is in your best interests to have a copy of the coastal access guide in your boat when you do, and know the two statutes listed in this article. This way, if you are harrassed by the authorities, you have recourse to show that you are in compliance with the law. If all else fails, report the incident to the state police and the DEP.