Long-Serving Member Resigns from R.I.’s Coastal Agency
March 10, 2023
PROVIDENCE — For years the board that oversees the Ocean State’s coastal regulations has been operating with vacancies, and last month it lost a long-serving member.
The Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) is a 10-member board that has final say over most of the coastal agency’s decisions. CRMC executive director Jeff Willis actually reports to the council, as opposed to the governor, as most state government department heads traditionally do.
But the council hasn’t a full roster since 2019, and since the pandemic has regularly had two open vacancies. Council members are appointed by the governor, and must be confirmed by the Senate, but Gov. Dan McKee has delayed filling vacancies.
Earlier this year two empty spots became three. In January longtime council member Jerry Sahagian, who has served in some capacity on the body for more than two decades, submitted his resignation to the governor’s office. The Saunderstown resident, a real estate developer and liquor store owner, was most recently appointed and confirmed in early 2017 and was still serving despite his term having expired three years ago. State law allows council members to serve on an expired term until they are replaced.
“Mr. Sahagian served for years on the commission and the Governor is grateful for his service,” wrote a spokesperson for the governor in a statement to ecoRI News. “At this time the Governor continues to search for qualified candidates.”
Sahagian, as one of the longest-serving CRMC members, was a prominent member of the council, who typically took the lead in discussion of projects under council review. But he, along with other current members of the council, have attracted scrutiny and controversy in the past. Most recently a backdoor deal to approve the Champlin’s Marina expansion into Block Island’s Great Salt Pond spurred Jonathan Stone, then-executive director of Save The Bay, to call for the removal of those members who voted to approve the project.
Council members have also come under fire for lacking backgrounds or expertise in coastal policy or environmental issues, with the state law only specifying qualifications for members based on what community they are representing.
According to the Secretary of State’s website, Sahagian was on the council representing a coastal community as a member of the public. The website also still lists two former members, Lisette Gomes and Michael Hudner, as serving on the council.
Six members of the council must come from Rhode Island communities — three from municipalities with less than 25,000 people and three from communities with more than 25,000 people. At least five of them must serve as elected or appointed officials within the community they represent.
Here’s who is left on the council:
The director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental management or designee serve as an ex-officio member. Ron Gagnon, an administrator in the department’s Office of Customer and Technical Assistance, typically represents DEM at meetings.
Chairman Raymond Coia and Patricia Reynolds both represent municipalities with populations greater than 25,000. Coia, who served as the council’s vice chair under previous chair Jennifer Cervenka, represents Cranston and works as an administrator at the New England Laborers Health and Safety Fund. His last term expired in January 2020.
Reynolds, who represents East Greenwich, works as the director of planning for the city of Newport. Her last term expired in January 2020.
Donald Gomez and Lindsay McGovern represent municipalities with less than 25,000 people. Gomez, who represents Little Compton, is a retired Navy undersea warfare technician and was confirmed to a new term by the Senate last year. McGovern represents Narragansett and works as an executive with renewable energy developer Revity Energy.
The newest members of the council are listed on the Secretary of State’s website as representing public members of a coastal community. Stephen Izzi, an attorney who works and lives in Cranston, has expertise in land use and development and was confirmed last year. He replaced Joy Montanaro, a dental hygienist also from Cranston.
Catherine Robinson Hall, a prominent new voice in council meetings these days, is a former DEM attorney with specific expertise in coastal policy and watershed protection. Hall lives in Smithfield and was also confirmed by the Senate last year. Her appointment filled a long-empty seat on the council.
Filling all seats on the council is crucial for it to meet quorum. Last year, the CRMC had to delay decisions on a number of projects because the board struggled to make quorum, the minimum number of members a public body must have to be able to vote on proceedings. By having a minimal number of council members appointed, one or two absences from a meeting is the difference between approving projects and business coming to a standstill.