Judge rules on Champlin’s mediation with CRMC
The long-awaited decision on the validity of the mediation between Champlin’s Marina and the R.I Coastal Resources Management Council was delivered Sept. 9, although there is still no resolution in the matter.
Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Lanphear was tasked with determining whether that mediation, which resulted in a memorandum of understanding in December of 2020 that granted Champlin’s the right to an expansion of its marina, was proper. The mediation was conducted without the participation of the Town of New Shoreham and the other intervenors in the court case that has dragged on for 18 years and is now in Supreme Court. The other intervenors include the Committee for the Great Salt Pond, the Block Island Land Trust, the Block Island Conservancy and R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha.
The town chose not to participate in the mediation and argued it was led to believe that the mediation would not go forward without its participation. Judge Lanphear, in his written decision called this a “tactical move,” and that the other parties had the right to mediate without them.
The town and intervenors also claimed they were not given notice that the mediation would still occur, however Lanphear wrote: “This court finds that sufficient actual notice was given.”
But what of the settlement itself? Judge Lanphear wrote: “However, the objectors to the MOU have a right to be heard before a court if it is considering adopting that MOU as a judgement...This court finds that another hearing is necessary to allow for an opportunity to be heard.”
The MOU granting an expansion to the marina was based on what is called the “Goulet plan,” after Danni Goulet, a CRMC employee. Much of the 66-page decision is a recounting of the testimony heard in July, including:
“Mr. Goulet testified that in December 2020 he was asked by CRMC Executive Director Willis to review whether there were any staff-generated plans that were acceptable for an expansion as part of the old file.”
This it seems is the crux of the problem for Attorney General Peter Neronha. It does not adhere to the way applications are normally handled by the CRMC, and there was never an opportunity for anyone to weigh in on its merits.
“Regulatory agencies in Rhode Island have been given extraordinary powers by the General Assembly to make decisions that directly and significantly impact the people of this state,” Neronha wrote in a statement following the decision. “Under long-settled Rhode Island law, this extraordinary grant of power is conditioned on several things, including a requirement that their quasi-judicial decision-making process be transparent and provide for public input, and that every agency decision be supported by specific findings of fact and conclusions of law that objectively justify the decision.” He continued, “Every Rhode Island regulatory agency must follow these rules, codified in the Administrative Procedures Act.”
“Today’s decision is a win for deals constructed behind closed doors while doing the people’s business, when the law demands precisely the opposite,” Neronha went on to say. “But this is not the last battle.”