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Illegal Floats Result in Jail Time for Environmental Violator

After the defendant spent the night at the ACI on the order of Superior Court Associate Justice Sarah Taft-Carter, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin and the Coastal Resources Management Council announced that Thomas Koolen, of Warren, has agreed to comply with a CRMC order to remove more than 100 illegal floats he placed off his property in the Kickemuitt River in Warren. The floats are to be removed by April 10, 2012 and the parties are scheduled to appear before the Court on April 9, 2012, to update the court on the status of said removal.

Thomas Koolen, in violation of CRMC's regulations, installed a significant number of floats, initially believed to be over 40, now estimated over 100, off of his Warren property located on the Kickemuitt River. As a result of administrative proceedings, CRMC issued a decision ordering him to remove the floats but he failed to do so.

In the Fall of 2011, CRMC instituted an action against Koolen in Providence Superior Court to enforce the final agency order requiring him to remove the floats. On November 18, 2011, Judge Taft Carter granted CRMC's petition to enforce the final order and ordered the defendant to remove all structures located off of his property by December 2, 2011.

On December 1, 2011, the defendant filed for bankruptcy with the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Rhode Island in an attempt to stop the proceedings against him in state court. CRMC, with assistance from the Office of Attorney General, successfully argued that the pending state court action against the defendant was exempt from the automatic stay provision of the United States Bankruptcy Code. The Bankruptcy proceedings have since been dismissed by the Bankruptcy Court.

"Mr. Koolen tried to legally outmaneuver CRMC and skirt his responsibility to clean up the environmental hazard and public safety nuisance he created by the floats. Our Office intervened to prevent a misuse of the federal bankruptcy process and Mr. Koolen's attempt to continue an unlawful environmental hazard," said Attorney General Kilmartin.

"This is a serious violation of the CRMC's regulations that has required the coordinated efforts of the Attorney General's office, CRMC and the Town of Warren to protect public safety" said CRMC legal counsel Brian A. Goldman.

On December 2, 2011, the Court found the defendant in willful contempt of the prior court order by failing to remove the floats off of his property and ordered a fine of $25,000.00 against the defendant. According to the order, the fine is to be paid into the registry of the Court for the purpose of funding the removal of the structures from tidal water, allowing the CRMC to petition the Court for disbursement of funds for the purpose of removing the structures from the water. The Court order stated that the fine could be recorded as a lien on the property owned by the defendant.

On Wednesday, March 28, 2012, the Court held a status conference to determine whether the defendant had removed the floats. It was determined that they had not been removed and the Court continued the matter to April 3, 2012 to give representatives from the Town of Warren time to determine the estimated cost to remove the floats.

On April 3, 2012, at the Providence Superior Court, the defendant indicated to the Court that the floats had not been removed from his property. Judge Taft-Carter also took testimony from the Warren Harbormaster, who indicated to the court that the floats have become a public safety hazard as children have been using the floats to cross portions of the Kickemuitt River, which required the Warren Police to intervene. The floats also drew the attention to the United States Coast Guard, requiring the Coast Guard to notify mariners of possible navigable hazards in Narragansett Bay. The estimated cost for removal of said floats is about $21,000.00.

On April 4, 2012, the Court ordered and Mr. Koolen agreed to remove the floats by April 10, 2012. The Court requested that the parties appear on April 9, 2012, to determine the status of the removal process.

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