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By Richard Salit April 10, 2011

Licht says proposed fees for R.I. state beaches are still less than fees at some municipal beaches

After an unusually cruel winter and chilly spring, we couldn’t stop dreaming of hot summer days at the seashore. Then Governor Chafee proposed nearly doubling fees at state beaches. It hit us like a bucket of ice water.

Under the plan, the price for a season pass would increase to $60 for Rhode Islanders from $30. Daily rates for state residents would jump to $10 from $6 during the week and to $14 from $7 on weekends and holidays. Fees for out-of-staters would also increase.

While discussing the proposed fees on WJAR-TV’s "10 News Conference" on April 3, Richard Licht, director of the Department of Administration, asserted they weren’t out of line.

"For $30 more, you are getting a season pass to one of the greatest sets of beaches in the country. …You still, at $60, are less than some of the town beaches charge … I don’t think that’s an inordinate burden on the people of Rhode Island," Licht said.

Could the fees at state beaches still be lower than town beaches — even if doubled?

When we inquired where Licht got his information, the governor’s spokesman, Michael Trainor, told us we’d hear back by the next day.

While we waited, we made some phone calls and found 14 coastal communities that charge admission to their beaches. Most of the beach fees have been set for the season.

Like a beach ball on a breezy day, the fees are all over the place. And there are many different categories, covering residents, non-residents and seniors.

(The Chafee administration ultimately referred us to the state Department of Environmental Management, which cited many of the same figures we found in our survey.)

We decided to focus on the fee that the majority of state residents -- who don’t live in beach communities -- would pay for a season pass or a single day at the shore. If they visit a state beach, they’d all pay the new fees. If they visit a town beach, they’d pay that community’s non-resident fee.

The most expensive non-resident season pass costs $175 for Little Compton’s South Shore Beach. Middletown’s Sachuest Beach, also known as Second Beach, charges $140. Next comes Charlestown, at $90. Passes go for $80 at Newport’s Easton’s Beach and South Kingstown Town Beach and $70 at Wuskenau Town Beach in Westerly.

So how does the state’s proposed $60 season pass compare? Of the eight towns that offer passes to non-residents, the state fee would be less than all but Portsmouth, which collects $50 for a pass to Sandy Point Beach, on the Sakonnet River.

So far, so good for Licht.

But what about daily fees? (Remember, we’re comparing state fees to local non-resident fees, setting aside favorable pricing for residents.)

Let’s begin with weekdays.

The Chafee administration wants to increase the $6 daily state fee to $10.

Three towns -- Warren, Bristol and Tiverton -- charge just $5 per day. Westerly charges $6 and Portsmouth charges $7.

Prices are higher at the ocean beaches: $10 in Charlestown, Narragansett, Middletown and Newport; $12 in Little Compton; and $15 a day in South Kingstown and Jamestown. (Narragansett also charges a separate fee to walk onto the beach.) Two towns -- Barrington and North Kingstown -- don’t allow non-residents to park at their beaches.

So the $10 state fee would be less than 5 of the 12 towns that welcome out-of-towners.

On weekends and holidays, the state’s new fee would be $14 -- less than fees in 8 of the 12 beach towns.

So when Licht says the new state fees are less than "some" of the town beaches, we can’t  disagree. In fact, the state fees are lower in many instances.

We won’t kick any sand at Licht on this one.  We rate his claim True.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources, "10 News Conference: April 3, 2011," accessed on April 4, 2011.

Telephone interviews with municipal officials and clerks in 15 coastal communities in Rhode Island, April 4-6, 2011.

The Providence Journal, "Day at Beach Less Sunny," March 30, 2011, accessed on April 5, 2011. (Two of the fees cited in this article have since been slightly revised.)

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Licht says proposed fees for R.I. state beaches are still less than fees at some municipal beaches

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