Willis Named CRMC’s Interim Executive Director


Jeffrey Willis

Grover Fugate, the long-serving executive director of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), is set to retire May 31. Fugate, who in 1986 became the agency’s first director, has no immediate plans other than to spend more time with family.

During an April 14 video meeting, CRMC’s governing board approved deputy director Jeffrey Willis to serve as acting director until Fugate’s replacement is hired.

Willis will take on the duties of executive director while continuing his current responsibilities. He said he intends to apply for the director position.

Several members of the CRMC board spoke enthusiastically about Willis serving as interim director.

CRMC chairwoman Jennifer Cervenka said Willis “is well liked and trusted by this council.”

If he stays on, Willis will likely surpass Fugate’s 34-year tenure. Willis began his career at CRMC as an intern 32 years ago.

CRMC is one of the few state agencies where the director isn’t nominated by the governor and approved by the Senate. The agency’s executive director is hired by the nine-member citizen board, plus the director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM). CRMC members and the DEM director are nominated by the governor and approved by the Senate.

The position will pay an annually salary between $126,261 and $141,867. Duties include running a 30-person staff, overseeing a $2.8 million state budget and $1.6 million in federal grants, and managing permitting for coastal and near-shore development.

The agency has received national accolades for it special area management plans (SAMPs) that offer management tools for offshore wind development, aquaculture, and beach use.

In addition to processing building permits, CRMC will be busy in the months and years ahead conducting consistency reviews for a number of proposed offshore wind facilities. At least one project, Revolution Wind, will require permitting from CRMC to allow the placement of a power cable through Rhode Island waters and its connection to shore at Quonset Point in North Kingstown.

See the job posting here.

Coastal barriers
At its virtual meeting last week the council also approved the use of new shoreline barriers for coastal property owners. In addition to stone walls, such as bulkheads and riprap, hybrid walls with a stone base and vegetation or biodegradable materials are now allowed under certain circumstances. CRMC will encourage use of these hybrid barriers to builders in place of the stone and steel walls, which tend to increase erosion and cause other environmental damage.

Building new stone, steel, hybrid, and other man-made barriers are still prohibited along the Ocean State’s shoreline. These barriers are also forbidden to reclaim shoreline lost to erosion or a storm. But a new provision allows new barriers if they aid in creating or restoring a marsh.

An exception was also created to allow new seawalls and bulkheads if they serve a water-dependent-use area, such as an industrial waterfront, high-intensity boating area, or a commercial or recreational harbor. All other options must be ruled out before the stone or steel walls are permitted.

Updated stormwater management and design rules were also adopted and amended in the CRMC Red Book.

Floating offshore wind turbines
Such turbines are no longer a concept for local waters, but are closer to becoming a reality off Scotland, in the Gulf of Maine, and some other places. This design is preferred for rocky and deep ocean floors, which are impractical for pile driving steel posts. Floating turbines are anchored by tethers to the seafloor. The tethers have raised concerns about entanglements with commercial fishing gear.

CRMC coastal policy analyst James Boyd told ecoRI News that he doesn’t expect to see floating turbines installed at any of the wind facilities proposed off southeastern New England. The water is relatively shallow compared to Maine and has ample sandy areas that are hospitable to pile driving.

New turbines in the region will also sit atop single “monopoles” rather than the multi-pile platforms used at the five-turbine Block Island Wind Farm.

Fugate reported that only eight staff members are working regularly at the CRMC office in Wakefield, while the rest work from home. The Stedman Government Center, which also houses a branch of the Department of Motor Vehicles, is closed to the public because of the global pandemic. Applications for development are being processed electronically by CRMC staff.

“We are still engaging in our meetings and duties to the extent that we can,” Fugate said. “We’re functioning.”


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