Senate delays CRMC board confirmations amid Block Island marina controversy

SENATE PRESIDENT Dominick J. Ruggerio has placed a hold on confirmation votes for the reappointment of three members of the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council's board following public process concerns raised by R.I. Attorney General Peter F. Neronha related to the expansion of dockage at Champlin's Marina & Resort. / COURTESY ERIK ELWELL

Providence – Due to controversy surrounding the approval of a Block Island marina expansion, the R.I. Senate is placing a hold on confirmation votes for three board members that Gov. Gina M. Raimondo planned to reappoint to the Coastal Resources Management Council.

The issue involves the CRMC’s closed session approval of Champlin Marina & Resort’s request to expand its dockage 156 feet into the Great Salt Pond in order to add about 150 slips to its facility. The CRMC had denied the request dating back to 2003, but granted approval for the project in an unexpected turn of events, even though the case is pending in the R.I. Supreme Court.

The decision to put a hold on the confirmation votes comes after R.I. Attorney General Peter F. Neronha petitioned the R.I. Supreme Court to intervene in the CRMC’s approval of the expansion.

The case is filed as Champlin’s Realty Associates v. the Coastal Resources Management Council. Conservancy groups on Block Island have opposed approval of the project for the past 20 years.

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In an email to Senators on Wednesday, Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio explained the reason for the hold on the reappointments.

“As you may be aware, Attorney General Peter F. Neronha announced on Monday that his office has filed a petition with the Rhode Island Supreme Court today to intervene in the proceedings regarding Champlin’s Realty Associates v. the Coastal Resources Management Council. The Attorney General raised concerns regarding a closed-door mediation between the CRMC and Champlin’s that would allow for a marina expansion.”

Ruggerio cited the responsibility of the Attorney General’s in protecting “the public’s interests and the State’s public trust resources,” asserting “that the settlement agreement recently presented to the Court for approval was formed outside of the public regulatory process and does not account for the factual findings that formed the basis for the CRMC’s 2011 decision denying Champlin’s application to expand.”

Specifically, the R.I. Office of the Attorney General cited the following concerns: the CRMC negotiated the Memorandum of Understanding 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.

“In light of the significance of the public process concerns raised by the Attorney General, we will not be considering advice and consent of the three reappointments to the CRMC currently on Wednesday’s calendar. Rather, I will direct that these nominations be placed on the desk,” wrote Ruggerio.

The Senate president’s hold places a hold on Raimondo’s reappointment of Jennifer R. Cervenka, chair; Raymond Coia, vice chair, and Donald Gomez to the CRMC board.

The Town of New Shoreham and conservancy groups such as the Committee for the Great Salt Pond are concerned that the expansion would encroach on the pond, as well as the town’s mooring field.

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

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