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Attorney General petitions to intervene in Rhode Island Supreme Court case involving marina expansion in Block Island's Great Salt Pond

PROVIDENCE, R.I. Attorney General Peter F. Neronha announced today that his office has petitioned the Rhode Island Supreme Court to intervene in Champlin's Realty Associates v. the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), a case that affects the State's coastal resources and the regulatory process designed to protect them. By participating in this case, the Attorney General seeks to protect Rhode Island's unique coastal environment and ensure that the CRMC follows the legal requirements necessary to a democratic process before approving Champlin's bid to expand its marina.

"This Office has a constitutional and common law obligation to protect the public interest, our environment, and our shared natural resources. When it becomes apparent that the process designed to protect our resources is not being followed, it is our job to intervene in order to protect the public interest," said Attorney General Neronha. "While I understand the CRMC's and Champlin's desire for finality, that cannot come at the expense of an established, transparent, regulatory process one that has been approved by the courts. To do that, agencies' final decisions must be visible and accessible, and any facts the agency relied on to support its decisions must be clear.

"This matter has a long and complex history, and its resolution will have a lasting impact on the natural resources of Block Island," Attorney General Neronha continued. "We are concerned that proper procedures are not being followed and we have made that concern known to the Court today."

Motion to intervene

In the motion filed with the Rhode Island Supreme Court today, the Attorney General has asked to intervene in the proceedings to address concerns about a recent closed-door mediation between the CRMC and Champlin's that would allow for a marina expansion. Citing the Office's responsibility to protect the public's interests and the State's public trust resources, the Attorney General asserts that the settlement agreement recently presented to the Court for approval was formed outside of the public regulatory process and does not account for the factual findings that formed the basis for the CRMC's 2011 decision denying Champlin's application to expand.

The recently developed plan, referred to as a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), was filed by CRMC and Champlin's with the Court on January 8, 2021. The Town of New Shoreham and other parties who have been involved in challenging Champlin's application over the past 17 years were not included in the settlement discussions where the MOU was developed. The MOU was adopted by the CRMC in an executive session, which means it was not open to the public.

As detailed in the motion to intervene, the Attorney General opposes the MOU between the CRMC and Champlin's because (1) The CRMC negotiated the MOU without jurisdiction to do so; (2) the MOU was created without following the CRMC's regulations and procedures or provisions; (3) the MOU does not comply with the Administrative Procedures Act because it does not contain findings of fact to explain or support its new position with regard to the marina expansion; and (4) the settlement process failed to comply with the steps the Court required the CRMC to follow when considering a new plan.

History

Today's motion to intervene is the Neronha administration's first involvement in a longstanding legal battle that began in 2003, when Champlin's first sought approval from the CRMC to expand its marina into Block Island's Great Salt Pond. In 2006, the CRMC denied the application, following a subcommittee recommendation and a full council vote and decision. Champlin's appealed the CRMC's decision, which traveled all the way up to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. In 2011, after more hearings and more evidence in the record, the CRMC again voted to deny Champlin's application for the marina expansion.

Champlin's appealed the decision to the Superior Court and, in February 2020, the Court upheld CRMC's decision to deny Champlin's application. Following that ruling, Champlin's filed a writ of certiorari in October 2020, asking the Rhode Island Supreme Court to review the lower court's decision. The Rhode Island Supreme Court granted certiorari and now has exclusive jurisdiction to make decisions in the case.

On January 8, 2021, the CRMC and Champlin's filed a joint motion with the Rhode Island Supreme Court to approve the MOU, which was reached after closed door negotiations, and incorporate it in an order of the Court.

Environmental Unit Chief and Special Assistant Attorney General Tricia K. Jedele and Special Assistant Attorney General Alison B. Hoffman are representing the Attorney General.

View the filed motion here.

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