As the Rhode Island Senate prepares to vote on three of outgoing Governor Gina Raimondo‘s controversial reappointments to the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) on Tuesday, Attorney General Peter Neronha has petitioned the Rhode Island Supreme Court to intervene in a case involving the Champlin Marina expansion in Block Island’s Great Salt Pond.
As revealed Sunday in the Providence Journal by investigative reporter Jim Hummel, the CRMC entered into closed door negotiations to approve an expansion of the Block Island marina opposed by the Town of New Shoreham and at least three environmental groups. The case has been litigated for almost two decades, and the expansion had been thwarted, until recent closed door negotiations re-opened the possibility of expansion once again.
Attorney General Neronha is requesting to intervene to both “protect Rhode Island’s unique coastal environment and ensure that the CRMC follows the legal requirements necessary to a democratic process before approving Champlin’s bid to expand its marina.”
“This Office has a constitutional and common law obligation to protect the public interest, our environment, and our shared natural resources. When it becomes apparent that the process designed to protect our resources is not being followed, it is our job to intervene in order to protect the public interest,” said Attorney General Neronha in a press release. “While I understand the CRMC’s and Champlin’s desire for finality, that cannot come at the expense of an established, transparent, regulatory process — one that has been approved by the courts. To do that, agencies’ final decisions must be visible and accessible, and any facts the agency relied on to support its decisions must be clear.
“This matter has a long and complex history, and its resolution will have a lasting impact on the natural resources of Block Island,” Attorney General Neronha continued. “We are concerned that proper procedures are not being followed and we have made that concern known to the Court today.”
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The recently developed plan, referred to as a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), was filed by CRMC and Champlin’s with the Court on January 8, 2021. The Town of New Shoreham and other parties who have been involved in challenging Champlin’s application over the past 17 years were not included in the settlement discussions where the MOU was developed. The MOU was adopted by the CRMC in an executive session, which means it was not open to the public.
As detailed in the motion to intervene, the Attorney General opposes the MOU between the CRMC and Champlin’s because:
- The CRMC negotiated the MOU without jurisdiction to do so;
- the MOU was created without following the CRMC’s regulations and procedures or provisions;
- the MOU does not comply with the Administrative Procedures Act because it does not contain findings of fact to explain or support its new position with regard to the marina expansion; and
- the settlement process failed to comply with the steps the Court required the CRMC to follow when considering a new plan.
At last Wednesday’s Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture, CRMC reappointees Jennifer Cervenka, Raymond Coia and Donald Gomez answered public criticism for their actions regarding the expansion of the marina and the expansion of natural gas infrastructure in the Port of Providence.
During the Senate Committee hearing, several people called in to complain about the CRMC’s process in approving the Marina expansion, only to be dismissed by both the CRMC reappointees and the Senators on the committee, who voted overwhelmingly to send the reappointments to the full Senate for approval.
Here’s the video:
At that Senate Committee hearing both Cervenka, who chairs the CRMC and Coia, who co-chairs the Council, misrepresented their actions at a 2017 hearing on the Port of Providence natural gas expansion. It should be noted that the Rhode Island Attorney General determined that the CRMC inappropriately withheld documents from the public in their rush to approve that project.
UpriseRI prepared a short video to demonstrate the mistruths told by the reappointees:
When the CRMC screwed over the mostly low-income BIPOC community around the Port of Providence, few people noticed or cared. When the CRMC attempted to screw over the mostly white, upper middle class and rich residents of Block Island, it became the front page of the Providence Journal and the Attorney General became involved.
Contact your Rhode Island State Senators to express your opinion on the CRMC reappointments here:
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