R.I. Supreme Court upholds denial of an expansion for Champlin’s Marina

Sat, 10/22/2022 - 12:19pm

What may have been the longest-running saga in Block Island’s history, the challenge to Champlin’s Realty Associates’ attempt to expand its marina into the Great Salt Pond, has finally, after almost two decades, come to a final conclusion.
The Rhode Island Supreme Court’s October 14 decision affirms the decision of the Superior Court of June 17, 2020 that held that the denial of an expansion to Champlin’s was valid. The Supreme Court decision, written by Chief Justice Suttell states: “The effect of the Superior Court judgment is to deny Champlin’s application, originally filed in 2003, to expand its marina on the Great Salt Pond in the Town of New Shoreham.”
“This is very exciting,” Henry duPont, a long-time member and director of the Committee for the Great Salt Pond told The Block Island Times. The Committee for the GSP had taken the lead in the case in the very beginning and raised thousands of dollars in donations specifically to fight the expansion in court. The expansion would have had the marina encroaching on the town’s mooring fields among other things.
Unexpectedly, in December of 2020, Champlin’s entered into mediation with the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council that resulted in a Memorandum of Understanding that, if accepted by the court, would have granted Champlin’s the right to an expansion, although one that was smaller than originally applied for.
The Town of New Shoreham, as an intervenor in the case Champlin’s Realty Associates v. Coastal Resources Management Council et al., declined to participate in the mediation and took its chances in court.
The other intervenors in the case were the Committee for the Great Salt Pond, the Block Island Land Trust, the Block Island Conservancy, and the Conservation Law Foundation. R.I. Attorney General Peter
Neronha also challenged the validity of the MOU.
At the time, the mediation caused controversy across the state, with many calling it a “back-room deal.”
The case went back to Superior Court to determine if the mediation was valid. In September 2021 the Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Lanphear determined that Champlin’s and the CRMC did have a right to
mediate, but the court left the door open for the town and the intervenors to have one last say in Supreme Court.
“Mediation was a long-recognized tool for alternative dispute resolution,” said Robert Goldberg, Champlin’s attorney in a statement issued Friday. “It saves money, time and delay and it often helps to add civility and focus to difficult and stressful circumstances. Mediation seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Although Suttell upheld the role of mediation in the court system, he found that per CRMC’s regulations, an assent may only be modified if an assent has actually been granted, and in this case no assent
ever was.
Suttell found that the MOU “fails to comport with the CRMC’s regulations and the [R.I. Administrative Procedures Act] in that it is devoid of any findings of fact with respect to the requirements that applicants
must satisfy under CRMP Section 300.1.” He further states that: “We therefore hold that the remand justice erred in determining that the CRMC and Champlin’s had authority to mediate. Accordingly, we decline to incorporate and merge the MOU into a consent order of this Court.”
Suttell also went back to the CRMC’s enabling legislation that directs the agency to implement policies to “secure the rights of the people of Rhode Island to the use and enjoyment of the natural resources of
the state with due regard for the preservation of their values….” He then concludes that “The CRMC therefore continues to be bound by the APA, its enabling legislation, and its regulations – the CRMC’s duty to
the people of Rhode Island does not end when it becomes a party to litigation that involves the propriety of one of its decisions.”
After Friday’s decision was announced, Neronha issued a statement saying: “[Friday’s] decision by our state’s Supreme Court is a win for all Rhode Islanders not only because of what it means for the protection of our environment and coastal resources, but also because it reaffirms the principle that we were fighting for: regulatory agencies have to follow the rules and cannot engage in ad hoc, behind-closed-door, deals that ignore their own procedures and evidence for the sake of expediency.”
“This is big news for the island and for justice overall,” said Sven Risom, Second Warden of the Town of New Shoreham and a long-time member and director of the Committee for the Great Salt Pond.
“We won,” said lead attorney for the intervenors, Dan Prentiss, when delivering Risom the news.