Marine

Court Rejects Brief That Expressed Concern About Controversial Expansion of Block Island Marina

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The controversy began in 2003, when Champlin’s Marina & Resort applied for a nearly 4-acre expansion. (Committee for the Great Salt Pond)

Rhode Island Supreme Court recently denied a request by four organizations to file a “friend of the court” brief in the long-standing controversy surrounding the proposed Champlin’s Marina & Resort expansion on Block Island. The court provided no reason for rejecting the brief, the filing of which was unopposed by the parties in the appeal.

The one-page Supreme Court order was issued Feb. 17.

Save The Bay, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) 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.

Through a surprise mediated settlement with the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) in late 2020, Champlin’s Realty Associates Inc. was granted approval to expand the marina’s footprint into Great Salt Pond.

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.

Rhode Island Superior Court found the mediation between Champlin’s and 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.

“We are surprised and disappointed to learn that our joint brief will not be considered in the case,” Save The Bay executive director Jonathan Stone said. “The news is particularly poignant given that the concerns surrounding the case involve a lack of transparency, circumventing public process. We stand by our objection to the settlement, and sustain our call for a fair and open process in the rulings that impact valuable natural resources.”

Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island, said the brief sought to “highlight the undermining of transparency and public participation that the lower court’s approval of the unusual mediation process in this case allowed.” He noted that is unfortunate that the court’s rejection of the brief only further diminishes that participation.

The brief claimed the court disregarded compliance with various critical environmental regulations and standards, including those requiring public involvement, and reversed the burden of proof, placing it on the intervenors to show that the closed-door deal was invalid, instead of leaving it, as required by law, on Champlin’s to show that its application meets all legal requirements.

“It’s disappointing the court chose not to accept our joint brief in this important case,” Common Cause Rhode Island executive director John Marion said. “Our groups bring important arguments on the value of transparency in government processes and the court’s deliberations will be lesser without them.”

The marina controversy began in 2003, when Champlin’s applied for a nearly 4-acre expansion. Facing considerable public opposition, CRMC rejected the application in 2006 and 2011. Champlin’s appealed to Superior Court in 2013. It wasn’t until February 2020 that the court affirmed CRMC’s decision. Champlin’s then appealed to state Supreme Court.

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