CGSP appeals to R.I. Attorney General in second court case with CRMC and Champlin’s

Thu, 04/08/2021 - 5:00pm
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Perhaps in appreciation and recognition of the power that his office can yield, the Committee for the Great Salt Pond is appealing to R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha for help in bringing to light just what happened, and whether it was legal when the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council mediated with Champlin’s Realty Associates and granted them an expansion of their marina after 17 years.

The mediation was arrived at in December and unanimously approved by the CRMC in an executive session of their Dec. 29 meeting. The Town of New Shoreham and the other intervenors in the case, the CGSP, the Block Island Land Trust, and the Block Island Conservancy, were not aware that the mediation was actually taking place. They were told by the CRMC, through Town Solicitor Kathy Merolla, that no mediation would take place without them. But, it did, and no one ever told the town about the change in plans.

Although the R.I. Supreme Court has denied the motion submitted by Champlin’s, through its attorney Robert Goldberg, some members of the public have erroneously assumed that the court’s denial somehow ended the matter, but it hasn’t. It is still an active case in which the court will review the proceedings of the Superior Court’s decision arrived at earlier in 2020 that upheld the CRMC’s denial of a marina expansion originally applied for in 2003.

There is a second, new, court case playing out in Superior Court that was filed by Merolla and Dan Prentiss, who has represented the intervenors since 2003. On January 25, 2021 they filed a “Complaint for judicial review of agency decision.” The filing asks for, among other things, a stay of the ruling, and for the ruling to vacated and reversed.

The big question is: why the pivot? After 17 years of upholding their denial of Champlin’s expansion, suddenly the CRMC did a complete about-face. The intervenors want to know why.

The filing should have triggered a 30- day window for the CRMC to provide a complete record of their proceedings under the R.I. Administrative Procedures Act. Those proceedings took place in executive session and the records were sealed.

Apparently the CRMC did not comply and on March 15, Prentiss and Merolla filed a motion to the Superior Court that states: “The Petitioners’ complaint for judicial review was served on the CRMC on Jan. 25, 2021. Pursuant to [R.I. General Laws] section 42-35-15(d), the CRMC was required to transmit the ‘entire record’ of the proceeding under review within 30 days of being served. It has failed or refused to comply with that statutory mandate, necessitating the Petitioners’ recently filed motion to compel transmission of the record.”

The motion goes on to state: “If there was any record made of the CRMC’s dealings with Champlin’s, the agency is attempting to conceal it. The reported outcome of the dealings is an agreement for marina expansion that is in dramatic disagreement with the CRMC’s findings based on public record.”

Ironically, on the municipal level, matters of litigation are almost always discussed behind closed doors – in executive sessions and the public is usually not informed of the results until such time as minutes are unsealed, if ever. Both the town and the Land Trust are subject to these statutory procedures. The public wouldn’t know what was happening without the help of organizations like the CGSP and the BIC that are not beholden to the same constraints.

The plea to Neronha will perhaps bring the matter out from behind closed doors.

In a letter to Neronha dated April 2, CGSP President Cheryl Moore writes: “in a public statement by its counsel Robert Goldberg issued after the court’s order, Champlin’s asserted that the Supreme Court ‘did not dispute the legitimacy of the settlement,’ and that the ‘settlement is still in place.’ This clearly signals Champlin’s intention, even if it loses its appeal pending in the Supreme Court, to continue its effort to leverage the MOU as a CRMC decision granting its marina expansion application.”

“For this reason, the legitimacy of the CRMC ruling/order approving the MOU remains a potent issue…”

Henry duPont, a longtime member of the CGSP told The Block Island Times: “Since the AG made such a compelling argument on behalf of the people of Rhode Island, in his briefs to the Supreme Court, the opposition groups now feel that since the same issues are at play before the Superior Court, that if the Attorney’s General would also put the weight of his office behind us, in Superior Court, it would bolster our position. The Block Island Times reached out to Neronha’s office for a comment and was told: “This Office remains significantly concerned about the travel of the Champlin’s matter. Consistent with our commitment to protecting Rhode Island’s natural resources, and our ongoing willingness to act when regulatory bodies ignore the requirements of the law in their decision-making process, we will make public our next steps in the near future.”

The motions will be heard in Superior Court on April 19.