CRMC Member Ineligible to Serve on Coastal Agency, Save The Bay Says
Lindsay McGovern no longer serves as an appointed or elected official within the town she was selected to represent
May 8, 2023
PROVIDENCE — New allegations have arisen over the executive public body that oversees the Coastal Resources Management Council just as the agency is expected to approve the Revolution Wind project Tuesday evening.
Council member Lindsay McGovern is no longer eligible to serve on the CRMC board, according to a letter sent last week to state officials from Save The Bay. The letter, written by director of advocacy Topher Hamblett, details that the nonprofit discovered McGovern no longer serves as an appointed or elected official within the town she was selected to represent on the council, Narragansett, after a routine inquiry with the town clerk.
Up until last November, McGovern served on Narragansett’s Historical Cemetery Commission, but declined reappointment last fall.
McGovern is one of four appointees representing a specific coastal community. Out of the 10 members selected to serve on the CRMC board, four of them must represent a coastal community. Two must live in communities with a population lower than 25,000, and another two appointees must live in communities with a population greater than 25,000.
Those appointees have an additional catch: they must also serve in an elected or appointed office in the municipality they have been chosen to represent. Per state law, they can only serve on the council as long as they hold an elected or appointed position.
McGovern, vice president of Warwick-based Revity Energy, was appointed in May 2021 by Gov. Dan McKee, who chose her to replace Michelle Collie, the CEO of a chain of local physical therapy practices. McGovern’s appointment paperwork lists her as representing a community with a population of less than 25,000, with a home address in the town of Narragansett. Her term was scheduled to expire in September of this year.
McGovern did not return a request for comment on Monday.
CRMC, a small agency with around 30 employees, is responsible for regulating and permitting the state’s 400 miles of coastline. Unlike the Department of Environmental Management, which has a director that makes all final permitting decisions, CRMC relies on a 10-member appointed council, nine of whom are selected by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. The council is allowed to override staff recommendations, a power that has landed the agency in hot water in the past.
McGovern’s eligibility to serve on the council is a thorny problem for CRMC, which has considered or approved a number of high-profile requests in the past six months since McGovern became ineligible to serve, including approving the export cables for the Revolution Wind project.
“The fact that Lindsay McGovern, who has been sitting for six months on the council while ineligible to do so certainly invites the question of whether or not any vote she took can be called into question,” Hamblett said in a phone interview with ecoRI News. “Any action by the council that was made on account of those votes can be called into question.”
A spokesperson for McKee’s administration did not return a request for comment or answer follow-up questions regarding CRMC.
McGovern’s ineligibility would bring the total number of vacant seats on the council up to four. Longtime council member Jerry Sahagian quietly resigned from his seat in January, after nearly two decades on the CRMC board.
McKee only appointed two new members last year: Cranston attorney Stephen Izzi and coastal policy professor and attorney Catherine Robinson Hall. He also reappointed Little Compton resident Donald Gomez for another term.
But the governor has yet to fill any of the existing vacancies on the council and has provided no timeline for doing so. All appointees to the council must be confirmed by the Senate, and and the Legislature is entering its home stretch, with little more than six weeks left on the calendar.
Hamblett said Save The Bay had been sending the governor regular letters and communication since he took office regarding CRMC issues, but characterized the administration as “not very responsive.”
“The governor is failing on CRMC,” Hamblett said. “He’s not nominating appointees, as far as we can tell he’s not even posted the position of hearing officer, which the General Assembly budgeted for last year. He’s not doing what he’s supposed to do on the most basic level.”
There are three other council members who represent specific coastal communities and must also hold elected or appointed office.
Chair Raymond Coia represents Cranston, a coastal community with a population greater than 25,000. He reappointed as a municipal judge by the Cranston City Council in January.
Patricia Reynolds represents Newport, another coastal community with a population greater than 25,000. She works as director of planning and economic development in the city.
Gomez is the only appointee who represents a coastal community with less than 25,000 residents, Little Compton, and according to the town clerk, he serves on the town’s Fireworks Committee and the Wilbur Woods Stakeholder Committee.
CRMC has become a focal point for government reform in recent years. The agency found itself at the center of controversy during the pandemic when it approved a backroom deal to approve an expansion of Champlin’s Marina & Resort on Block Island. But not all was sunny in paradise before that; the council has a history of decisions that overrode the recommendations of staff, despite council members having no requirement to have expertise in environmental, coastal, or land-use issues.
And for the first time since 2018, the General Assembly has an appetite for reform. Its study commission on reforming the agency issued its recommendations last year, but members of each chamber have introduced several bills that go further.
S0772, introduced by Sen. Victoria Gu, D-Westerly, would radically alter the shape of CRMC’s structure, changing it into a traditional state agency called the Department of Coastal Resources. Gu told lawmakers earlier this year it would bring the agency more in line with DEM, having an executive director who reports to the governor, instead of the council. The legislation would neuter the council, changing it to an advisory body with comparatively limited powers.
Similar legislation introduced by Rep. Teresa Tanzi, D-Narragansett, was heard in the House earlier this year.
Other bills under consideration in the Senate, introduced by Sen. Sue Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown, would neuter or change the makeup of the council. S0194 would require the council to obtain a supermajority of three-fifths of all members to override any recommendations from agency staff.
S0197 would alter the composition of the council to include public members such as a licensed and active angler, a representative from Save The Bay, and another seat to be filled by a developer’s organization.
It’s unlikely reform to the council will come quickly even if legislation passes. Significant changes to the agency’s permitting power, including altering who makes those decisions, require approval from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which administers the federal Coastal Zone Management Program, which empowers states to make development decisions along their coastlines.
“That’s one of our criticisms of the council,” Hamblett said. “It doesn’t actually speed things up, it slows things down. Clearly, it’s broken and needs fixing.”
The council is scheduled to meet Tuesday, May 9. Approval for the Revolution Wind project is on the agenda.