Brief Supports Overturning Ruling that OK’d Expansion of Controversial Block Island Marina
February 11, 2022
Interceding in a case raising significant issues involving government transparency in environmental disputes, four organizations recently filed a “friend of the court” brief in Rhode Island Supreme Court in a long-standing controversy involving the proposed expansion of Champlin’s Marina & Resort on Block Island.
Save The Bay, the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, Common Cause Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association filed the amicus curiae brief in support of the attorney general and intervenors in the case, who are seeking to overturn a September 2021 Superior Court decision. The court found the mediation between Champlin’s and the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) approving the expansion was “proper and conclusive.” However, the court made that finding even though other parties that had been involved in the litigation for years were not a part of the mediation.
Through a surprise mediated settlement with CRMC in late 2020, Champlin’s Realty Associates Inc. was granted approval to build 170 feet into Great Salt Pond. The 1.5-acre expansion includes extending the fuel dock 85 feet, to a length of 314 feet. A parallel 314-foot-long dock was approved that connects to the fuel dock with a 156-foot-long dock. Additional space for parking was also granted. Sewage pump-out stations and pedestal lighting were permitted on the new piers.
The agreement brokered by retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank J. Williams was sanctioned unanimously Dec. 29, 2020 during an executive session of the CRMC board. CRMC has declined to comment on the action and there is no public record of what occurred during closed-door deliberations.
The recently filed brief claims the court disregarded compliance with various environmental regulations and standards, including those requiring public involvement.
“As an environmental advocacy organization with a long-standing history of watching over the agencies and activities that impact the health of Narragansett Bay, we are compelled, alongside our fellow amici, to voice our objection to the settlement in order to ensure a fair and transparent process in the rulings that impact our natural resources,” Save The Bay executive director Jonathan Stone said. “Without a public process and demonstration of compliance with coastal regulations, we will not know whether the CRMC is upholding its duty to protect our public trust resources.”
The brief raises several concerns with last year’s decision, including that if the ruling is upheld, there will be no requirement that an applicant demonstrate compliance with CRMC regulations or that interested parties — either on this project or any moving forward — be informed of a project’s impact on wildlife, fish populations, water quality, and recreational use.
In the brief, the amici argue that “if the 2021 Superior Court decision is upheld, it will eviscerate the public process mandated by state and federal law to ensure transparency and accountability for both the regulated parties and the government body charged with the responsibility of protecting our public trust resources. Affirming the decision will create a court-approved path that will allow applicants to sidestep the public’s rights to a fair and open government.”
“Any person concerned about government transparency and accountability should be troubled by the CRMC’s actions in this case,” ACLU of Rhode Island executive director Steven Brown said. “It sets a dangerous precedent that could encourage behind-the-door activities by government agencies that unfairly and unwisely shut out the public. We are hopeful the Supreme Court will emphatically reject this outcome.”