Reactions to Supreme Court denial of Champlin’s and CRMC’s mediation

Thu, 04/01/2021 - 5:15pm
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Islanders and local environmental groups were excited to hear the news that broke on Friday evening, March 26, that the R.I. Supreme Court issued an order denying the motion to “incorporate and merge” the Memo of Understanding crafted by Champlin’s Realty Associates and the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council that would have granted the right of the marina to expand 156 feet into the waters of the Great Salt Pond.

The controversial agreement, in the form of a Memo of Understanding, was approved in an executive session of the CRMC’s meeting on December 29, 2020 with no parties representing, and without the knowledge of 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 – the intervenors in the case that has stretched out for over 17 years and is now in the Supreme Court under appeal by Champlin’s.

The news of the December deal caused the intervenors to jump into action, filing additional motions before the court objecting to the MOU and the process by which it was arrived. R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha, also objecting to the process, quickly filed his own motion to the court to be accepted as an intervenor.

In a footnote to the court’s order, it says: “The MOU is dated December 29, 2020. The proposed consent order document that the movants seek to have entered has never been filed with this Court.”

The Block Island Times asked attorney Daniel Prentiss, who represents the Town of New Shoreham and the intervenors, to explain what that meant. He told The Times: “Footnote one in the order refers to the proposed ‘consent order’ that the joint motion [from Champlin’s and the CRMC] asks the court to enter. The motion itself was filed. But normally, a party that seeks to have a consent order entered by the court submits the proposed order with the motion. The footnote just points out that in this case the moving parties did not even think to do that.”

The Times also asked Champlin’s attorney, Robert Goldberg about the footnote, and in response received a statement from his office that did not address the question.

Instead, Dyana Koelsch, spokesperson for Goldberg said: “We are reviewing the R.I. Supreme Court’s ruling in declining to enter a consent order that would have incorporated the elements of a MOU reached in mediation between Champlin’s Marina and R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council.”

“I was very relieved that the court took care of this in such short order,” said Prentiss, “and did not seem to consider the joint motion a really serious effort.”

Neronha, in a press release issued Friday, March 26, said: “I am pleased with the Court’s decision to refuse to ratify and enter as an order of the Court an agreement resulting from a private mediation outside the view and without the participation of concerned stakeholders who had long been parties to the underlying litigation. My Office intervened because the process utilized here by CRMC and Champlin’s was non-transparent, excluded these important additional stakeholders, and resulted in an agreement that failed to contain the environmental findings necessary to protect one of Rhode Island’s great natural resources – Block Island’s Great Salt Pond.”

In defense of the meditation that took place without the intervenors, Champlin’s attorney, Robert Goldberg has attempted to dismiss their role, but the court, in its written order, reaffirms it. “This matter is not new to the Court,” the order states. “In Champlin’s Realty Associates v. Tikoian… we held, among other things, ‘that Tikoian, the CRMC, and the intervenors are all aggrieved parties within the statute and, therefore, properly are before this Court.’”

Prentiss told The Times: “I was also gratified that the court once again stated emphatically that the town and the other intervenors are full parties to the case, and cannot be shunted aside by either the CRMC or Champlin’s.

The main reason for the denial however is that: “The papers filed in this Court as to the instant motion raise issues of fact not previously raised in the Superior Court. Such questions of fact are appropriately addressed in the Superior Court.”

“It is not the function of this Court to ‘rehear’ a case or consider new evidence not presented in the Superior Court.” Rather, the order states: “When a case comes before this Court on certiorari, our task is clear: We ‘examine the record for judicial error, [and] we inspect the record to discern if there is any legally competent evidence to support the findings of the hearing justice below.’”

“I am grateful that the Supreme Court agreed with our position,” said Neronha, “and that this matter will now proceed as it always should have – with the court’s review of the Superior Court’s well-reasoned decision denying Champlin’s Marina expansion.”

Prentiss said: “The case will now proceed on the normal path for an administrative appeal, in which I believe we have a very strong case. But there remains a very serious question that warrants close examination and legislative action: structural reformation of the CRMC to ensure that this kind of chicanery cannot happen again.”

“Anyone who cares about this State’s coastal resources should be deeply concerned that the agency responsible for the resources’ protection and conservation believes it can make a secret deal with a developer to give those resources away after the agency had made a decision, affirmed by the judiciary, that the proposed development was contrary to law,” added Prentiss.