Legal battle over Block Island marina expansion takes turn

THE PROPOSED expansion of the Champlin's Marina dock on Block Island has been at the center of a legal battle for 20 years. / PBN PHOTO/CASSIUS SHUMAN

NEW SHOREHAM A longstanding legal battle on Block Island concerning the Great Salt Pond has taken an unexpected turn, drawing the ire of conservancy groups.

The groups are displeased with the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council’s sudden closed session approval of a proposed 156-foot expansion of Champlin’s Hotel, Marina & Resort’s dockage into the Great Salt Pond. Expansion would mean the addition of about 150 slips and extension of the dockage into the Town of New Shoreham’s mooring field, which may require the mooring field to be removed or relocated.

Laura Dwyer, spokeswoman for the CRMC, said the council sealed the executive session minutes/discussion from the early January meeting when approval for the expansion was granted to the marina.

Henry DuPont, the founding director of the Committee for the Great Salt Pond, called the CRMC’s approval of the expansion “totally illegal.” Dupont said the CRMC did not provide public notice for its meeting, while noting that it is a “regulatory body,” and “not a party to this matter.”

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Champlin’s, a popular 250-slip marina facility situated on Block Island’s Great Salt Pond, has been trying to expand its dockage since 2003. The shoreline property includes a hotel, various dockside buildings, a swimming pool, restaurant, and a movie theater.

It consists of a three-pronged, trident pattern of fixed docks with multiple floating wharfs measuring approximately 6,000 feet, extending roughly 500 feet from the southwestern shore of the pond.

The marina property was sold on Dec. 23, 2020 to a Cranston-based real estate investment firm, the Procaccianti Companies, by Joseph Grillo, who had owned it since 1986.

The CRMC had denied Grillo’s request for expanding the dock in the past, dating back to Jan. 11, 2011.

In February of 2020, R.I. Superior Court Judge Kristin Rogers denied Champlin’s appeal for expansion, supporting the CRMC’s unanimous decision to deny the request. Then in October, Champlin’s appealed the court’s decision to the R.I. Supreme Court.

In a filing on Jan. 8, 2021, to the surprise of its opponents, Champlin’s Marina disclosed that it had mediated a settlement with the CRMC, and on Jan. 19, 2021 asked that the appeal with the court be held in abeyance.

On Jan. 20, the Town of New Shoreham, the Committee for the Great Salt Pond, the Block Island Land Trust, the Block Island Conservancy, and the Conservation Law Foundation, objected to the motion to hold the appeal in abeyance and disagreed that there had been a mediated settlement.

In mid-January, the groups asked for a 30-day extension to file papers, which was granted by rule of the court. Champlin’s subsequently indicated it objected to any additional extensions. The groups have until Feb. 17 to file new motions or papers. The appeal remains pending.

For historical perspective, in 1988, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit to the town to retain 55 existing rental moorings and place an additional 25 moorings in the rental mooring field adjacent to the marina. Three years later, the town adopted its first Harbor Management Plan, outlining policy and safeguards for the pond, which was approved by the CRMC.

When the town updated its harbor plan in 1999, The CRMC did not review it until 2003, when the Champlin’s expansion application was filed. Because Champlin’s application sought to expand into the adjacent mooring field and/or relocate rental moorings, the CRMC consolidated the town’s request to approve the 1999 harbor plan with Champlin’s expansion application.

After 23 public hearings, in 2006, the CRMC unanimously denied Champlin’s Marina expansion request.

Donations have been funding the conservancy groups’ ongoing legal activities in opposition to the expansion for almost two decades.

DuPont said there is concern the expansion “would overwhelm” the pond and that its property could become overbuilt.

“If this can happen to us, it can happen to any community,” said DuPont, who noted that Save the Bay was supportive of the CGSP’s stance on the issue.

“Save The Bay is gravely concerned that CRMC, without public input, reversed earlier, court-upheld decisions regarding the proposed expansion of Champlin’s Marina,” said Save The Bay Executive Director Jonathan Stone. “We’re also concerned that the agency granted a modified expansion through an agreement intended to serve as a decision. The decision does not contain the required findings of fact and conclusions of law. We support the efforts of the Committee for the Great Salt Pond and others to overturn such a process that circumvents public input. We urge CRMC to reconsider.”

Cassius Shuman is a PBN staff writer. You may reach him at Shuman@PBN.com.

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