Bill to Protect Open Space Moves Quickly to House

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — The House Judiciary moved quickly to advance a bill that would impose fines for damaging or building on protected open space.

By a unanimous vote at its Jan. 24 meeting, the committee sent bill H5116 to the House floor for a full vote. The bill is already on the Jan. 26 House calendar.

The legislation amends state theft and trespass laws to grant land trusts and other owners of open space legal action against someone who intentionally steals items, cuts down trees, builds roads or paths, or commits other damage on their property.

Currently, there are no penalties for such acts. The proposed penalty requires the guilty party to restore the land to its original condition and pay $5,000 in damages.

The bill is expected to pass to the House and then move to the Senate. The legislation passed the House last year, but was never taken up by the Senate.

During recent testimony, Rupert Friday, director of Rhode Island Land Trust Council, said local land trust need the law to deter and seek damages for a number of violations, such as stealing rocks from stone walls and neighbors clearing trees to improve their views.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Cale Keable, D-Burrillville. It was modeled after legislation passed in Connecticut in 2006.