Save The Bay filed a complaint in Rhode Island Superior Court on Friday asking for a declaratory judgment clarifying the number of members Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo has the authority to appoint to the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) and the required qualifications of those members.
The CRMC is a state agency charged with implementing and enforcing policies concerning the coastal resources of Rhode Island. The Council also acts as hearing officers over contested cases.
“We bring this action on behalf of our members who are repeatedly impacted by Council decisions concerning the development of the coastline, public access and the enforcement of regulations designed to protect natural resources,” said Save The Bay Executive Director Jonathan Stone. “Our members use and enjoy our coastal resources, own or reside near properties that are subject to Council regulations, and use public access sites for surfing, fishing, boating and swimming. They deserve to be properly represented by the Council.”
Rhode Island law states that the Council shall consist of 16 members—eight appointed by the governor, including the director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM), and eight appointed by the legislature. The law further stipulates that half of the Council members shall be elected or appointed officials at the time of their appointment to the Council and the majority of members shall represent coastal communities. In 2008, the Rhode Island Supreme Court determined that under the “so called separation of powers amendment,” the legislature could not, in fact, appoint members or serve on the Council. However, the General Assembly did not amend the law to change the membership of the Council or the appointing authority. The Council currently consists of 10 members appointed by the governor, including the director of the DEM, a position currently held by Janet Coit.
“We sought information from the governor’s office and reviewed the appointing papers of the members of the Council,” said Stone. “The governor’s office was unable to provide us with evidence that the Council includes members who were elected or appointed officials at the time of their appointment or that the majority of members represent coastal communities. It is our understanding that the governor’s office is retroactively working toward securing appointed positions for some members of the Council, which may technically meet the requirement of the law but circumvents its intent. It also appears that the governor may have exceeded her authority by appointing more than the eight allowable by law.”
According to the Save The Bay complaint:
“The issue before this court is one of statutory interpretation, a pure question of law…. The declaration sought by Save The Bay in this Petition would terminate the confusion over the appointment authority of the governor and provide certainty with respect to the number of Council members and their qualifications.”
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Save The Bay contends that prior to the separation of powers amendment, makeup of the Council was clear, but that post-separation of powers, the composition of the Council is unclear.
“The Coastal Resources Management Council has jurisdiction over critically important decisions affecting Rhode Island, and as such, the composition of the Council is a matter of public trust and public resources, particularly for people who live in or use coastal areas affected by Council decisions,” said Stone. “While Save The Bay has serious concerns about the current structure of the agency, we are today seeking clarity about the makeup of the Council and the number and qualifications of the governor’s appointments to ensure that Rhode Island’s coastal communities and coastal users are properly represented, as was clearly the intention of the law.”
[Note: Much of the above is from a Save The Bay press release]
The CRMC is currently chaired by Jennifer Cervenka, who was placed in her position by Governor Gina Raimondo in the middle off the Council’s consideration of permits needed by National Grid to build a liquefaction facility in the Port of Providence. The sudden appointment of Cervenka paved the way for National grid to get the desired permits.
Though Save The Bay’s complaint appears unrelated to the issue of the liquefaction facility, it is unknown what effect a judge’s decision may have on National Grid’s application. I will be following this story as best I am able.
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