State Beach Fees

Misquamicut State Beach, on a warm day last July. The beach is a mainstay of Westerly's seasonal tourism economy. Sun file photo.

PROVIDENCE — State lawmakers are seeking to thwart the governor's proposal to raise beach parking fees in Rhode Island.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston, said Thursday that the General Assembly lowered the fees in 2016 and that it's too soon to raise them. He is supporting a bill by Rep. Grace Diaz, D-Providence, to maintain the current rates for the next three summers.

"Our beaches are one of our greatest assets and we need to keep the fees affordable for families to continue to enjoy," Mattiello said in a statement.

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo wants fee increases at state beaches and campsites to add staffing in the state parks system. Raimondo has said the state is not doing enough now to preserve beaches and parks for future generations.

The Department of Environmental Management proposed that residents pay $2 more for daily beach parking or $10 more for a season pass. Nonresidents would pay $4 more for daily parking or $20 more for a season pass.

Mattiello told WPRO-AM on Thursday that he opposed such an increase and that he has heard from residents who are concerned. Shortly after, Diaz's bill was announced.

Diaz said she doesn't want the fees to pose a hardship for low-income residents.

"The last thing we want is to keep people from enjoying the state's beaches, simply because they cannot afford it," she said in a statement.

Currently, residents pay $6 on weekdays, $7 on weekends and $30 for a season pass. Nonresidents pay double.

DEM has also proposed increasing fees at campsites. The amount varies depending on the type of campsite.

Raimondo's office said that long-term investments are needed because of budget and staffing cuts at the DEM in recent years, combined with increasing visitor use, longer seasons, aging facilities and expanded responsibilities. Raimondo wants to add $1.5 million to the department's parks division for eight new employees.

The department's director, Janet Coit, said Thursday that it's a "small investment with a big impact."

"Our parks and recreational facilities attract 9 million visits per year, adding an estimated $310 million to the local economy," the department said in a news release.

Misquamicut State Beach in Westerly, which opened in 1959, drew more than 340,000 visitors in 2016 and had the highest percentage of out-of-town visitors of the state beaches, 76.8 percent. The state said these beach-goers spent more than $44 million.

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