Coastal Access Toolkit
For information about drawing up contracts, transferring access, and More...
Common Law and Statutes
What are background legal principles governing coastal land ownership and access rights?
In Alabama, coastal property owners own land to the mean high tide line. The intertidal land is owned by the state in trust for the public under the public trust doctrine. The right to own property and exclude others from it is a fundamental feature of U.S. law. Under Alabama common law, coastal property owners may prevent people from gaining access to the shoreline of their land. Gaining unauthorized access – either perpendicularly or horizontally to the shore – may be trespassing for which one may be liable in court.
The government has authority under its police powers to make laws protecting the welfare of its citizens, including regulating lands next to beaches and shores. Under the public trust doctrine, the government is obliged to act on behalf of the public to protect publicly-owned submerged lands below the mean low tide line, and publicly owned natural resources such as fish, bivalves, and seaweed that might be extracted from the shore.
The U.S. Constitution and many state constitutions also give the government the right to take private property under the power of eminent domain but only if the landowner receives appropriate compensation. Sometimes the government’s attempts merely to regulate behavior on or use of land goes so far as to amount to a "taking" requiring the government to pay the landowner for the lost value of the land.
More on eminent domain and takings.
More on land ownership and trusts.
What state statutes are relevant to access issues?
State laws affecting public access to the shore include:
- Alabama Coastal Area Management Program (ACAMP)
- Ala. Code § 335-8-1
- Alabama Recreational Use Statute
- Ala. Code § 35-15-20
Federal laws affecting public access to the shore include:
- US Coastal Zone Management Act