CRMC orders public access to Nayatt seawall

Walkers, joggers, fishermen confronted by security guard and alarms near Elm Lane right of way

By Josh Bickford
Posted 8/31/22

The southernmost section of Elm Lane is easy to mistake for a driveway.

The short stretch of pavement, which is bookended by large bushes, travels downhill from Nayatt Road toward Narragansett …

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CRMC orders public access to Nayatt seawall

Walkers, joggers, fishermen confronted by security guard and alarms near Elm Lane right of way


The southernmost section of Elm Lane is easy to mistake for a driveway.

The short stretch of pavement, which is bookended by large bushes, travels downhill from Nayatt Road toward Narragansett Bay. As Elm Lane approaches the water, it swerves a bit and then terminates abruptly in a small grassy area. To the immediate south is the bay — large, blue and mostly flat on this mild mid-summer afternoon. 

It is low tide, meaning that the concrete seawall, the large riprap boulders and a 15-foot section of seaweed-covered sand are exposed to the sun high overhead. 

In just a few hours, when the tide rolls back in, the bay will migrate closer to the Nayatt Point homes and cover the sand and rocks. The water will lap up against the concrete wall or maybe splash over the top if there is enough wind. 

At high tide, or really anywhere close to high tide, the top section of the seawall is all that stands between Narragansett Bay and the sprawling lawn at 85 Nayatt Road. Many locals remember it as the former home of professional golfer and commentator Brad Faxon, but today it is owned by Lance Sheffield and Holly Slater Sheffield, who purchased it in 2021 for nearly $4.6 million.

People looking to cross from one side of the seawall to the other are left with limited options, and they often resort to walking along the top of the concrete retaining wall. For years, dog walkers, beachcombers, joggers and fishermen crossed the seawall, either moving toward or away from Nayatt Point. 

But a few months ago the owners of 85 Nayatt Road hired a security guard, installed alarms, and made it abundantly clear that their yard and the seawall were off-limits. 

That decision has irritated neighbors, angered fishermen, and recently spurred an official cease and desist order from the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC). That order requires the property owners to allow public access along the riprap retaining wall. 

“Failure to comply with this order shall be a violation of a duly adopted council regulation, and subject to all fines and penalties established by law,” stated the order, which was written by CRMC Enforcement Officer Brian Harrington in late May. “Each day of noncompliance shall be deemed a separate and distinct violation in accordance with Section 46-23-7, G.L.R.I.”

More than two months after CRMC issued the cease and desist order requiring that the public be allowed to cross the property atop the retaining wall, a security guard was still stationed near the Elm Lane right of way, allegedly attempting to stop people from stepping onto the seawall. 

Alarm at night

June is a good time to fish for striped bass. 

And around Rhode Island, fishermen know that certain spots can promise sizable stripers. The water off Nayatt Point, accessible from the Elm Lane right of way, is one of those spots.

In late June, two Barrington teenagers rode their bikes to Elm Lane at about 8 p.m. They carried fishing rods and wore cinch sacks packed with lures, line, hooks and pliers. They rolled their bikes down the road and tossed them in the grass before walking out across the top of the concrete seawall.

The quiet of the evening, marked only the sound of waves rolling up on the rocks, was crushed suddenly by a blaring alarm located on the southern edge of the 85 Nayatt Road property. The alarm blasted a recording that the individuals were trespassing and needed to leave the area immediately. 

The incident was enough to rattle the teenagers, who later shared the account with the Barrington Times. 

They were not the only people to deal with issues along that section of seawall on Nayatt Point. Police reports document other incidents:

  • In late May, two 18-year-old residents told the police that they had parked their car on Elm Lane while they went fishing, and when they returned, the car’s tires were flat.
  • On June 5, someone called police after finding a knife lodged under their car tire when they parked on the Elm Lane right-of-way.
  • On June 8, a Nayatt Road resident contacted police after identifying on video two people who allegedly trespassed on her property. The resident asked police to track down the individuals and issue them no-trespassing orders. 

During an interview earlier this summer, Barrington Police Chief Michael Correia said he had spoken with one of the homeowners at 85 Nayatt Road. He said the homeowner’s contention was that the seawall is his property and that he’s respectfully requesting people not cross onto his property. The chief said the homeowner was asking people to cross along the rocks that abut the seawall. 

Chief Correia also addressed the situation involving the security guard. He said the security guard does not have the authority to put his hands on anyone.

Barrington Solicitor Michael Ursillo said the town was not directly involved in the seawall access issue. 

“There’s no litigation involving the town, and it’s not a town issue,” Ursillo said during a recent interview. 

“We won’t be involved with enforcing the rights of way.”

That job falls to the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council, Ursillo said. 

CRMC assent

Earlier this summer, an individual contacted CRMC regarding the shoreline abutting 85 Nayatt Road. Officials at the state agency researched the issue and discovered an official assent involving the property.

Laura Dwyer, a spokesperson for CRMC, said the assent dates back to 1981 and involves the construction of the riprap retaining wall. 

“As a stipulation of that permit, public access was required,” Dwyer said. “They’re in violation of that part of the assent,” she added, referring to the Sheffields.

In late May, CRMC Enforcement Officer Harrington issued the cease and desist order to the Sheffields. 

“It has come to the attention of the CRMC that: you or your agent are preventing lateral public access along the top of your riprap retaining wall in non-conformance with CRMC assent 1981-12-003, stipulation E and additional stipulation H,” the order states. The cease and desist also documents a second problem: construction of the seawall did not comply with the assent. 

“…specifically the wall was constructed without the required two foot wide access path along the top of the riprap…”

In addition, the assent requires that the property owner install and maintain a sign or plaque at each end of the riprap retaining wall “clearly visible to the public, indicating that passage atop the riprap shall not be denied the public, per order of CRMC…”

Said Dwyer: “We’re trying to work with the property owners to resolve this.”

A trip to the property on Monday, Aug. 29 revealed a different sort of sign staked at the edge of the property. It reads: “Private property, No trespassing, No walking on seawall.”

A second call to Dwyer regarding the sign yielded this response: CRMC is “working to set up a meeting with the property owner regarding this matter…”

Recent encounter

While the cease and desist order was issued more than two months ago, the Sheffields continued to have a security guard posted along the southern edge of their property as recently as the first week of August. 

The guard, who often parks his vehicle along the Elm Lane right of way and then walks the length of the seawall, was involved in a police incident on Aug. 6. 

According to the police report, a Nayatt Road resident called police that date and alleged that three people had trespassed on the property — one was a neighbor from the immediate area. The report stated that the three individuals had a disagreement with a security guard hired by the Nayatt Road resident — he allegedly tried to prevent them from stepping onto the top of the seawall. The police officer, able to confirm that the walkers had only been on the seawall, took no further action. 

The Barrington Times attempted multiple times to interview the Sheffields at their home, but no one answered the door. 

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.