Government

One New Member Named, Another Reappointed to CRMC

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The Coastal Resources Management Council was created in 1971 to manage coastal development along Rhode Island’s 400-plus miles of shoreline, including the beachfront town of Westerly. (Frank Carini/ecoRI News)

PROVIDENCE — The appointment of one new Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) member and the reappointment of another are headed for a vote on the Senate floor.

Gov. Dan McKee has named Catherine Robinson Hall, a former Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) staff attorney and coastal policy professor, to replace former chair Jennifer Cervenka, who resigned last year. The governor also reappointed Little Compton resident and retiree Donald T. Gomez, who has served on the body since 2007.

Robinson Hall, if approved by the Senate, would be the second attorney appointed to the council in as many weeks. Last week the Senate confirmed Stephen Izzi, a Cranston lawyer with a private practice who is a former partner at the law firm Moses Ryan.

CRMC is an agency in badly need of warm bodies. Unlike in a traditional state department, where an executive director has final say about agency decisions or permitting applications, at CRMC much of that power is delegated to a 10-member council that deliberates and votes on final decisions. CRMC staff can and will make recommendations on how the body should act, but the council is fully empowered to overrule and make any decision it wants.

But the council hasn’t had a full complement of 10 members for several years — it currently has only six members — and state officials have been slow to nominate replacements, a policy decision that has paralyzed the council. In order to be able to legally meet, the council must meet a minimum quorum of six members, meaning that, prior to Robinson Hall’s appointment, if one member was absent, the council could not meet to approve projects awaiting final decision by the agency.

CRMC’s voting body has canceled three meetings since April 12, and its last subcommittee meeting was a rights-of-way hearing in Portsmouth on April 21.

Robinson Hall has been called an “ideal candidate” for the council. Since acquiring her law degree from Vermont Law School in 1989, Robinson Hall has worked extensively in environmental and coastal law. From 1990 to 2000, she worked for DEM, rising to deputy chief legal counsel in 1993. She has been a professor in the marine studies program at Williams College-Mystic Seaport Maritime Studies since 2002. She keeps a small law practice in Slatersville, which she pledged would not conflict with her duties as a possible council member.

“I have never been before the council. My practice doesn’t bring me before the council, it never has in my 30-plus years of practice,” Robinson Hall said.

She received written letters of support from DEM director Terry Gray, URI professor emeritus Dennis Nixon, Williams-Mystic executive director Thomas Van Winkle, and Derek Langhauser, former legal counsel to Maine Gov. Janet Mills.

Topher Hamblett, Save The Bay’s director of advocacy and policy, told legislators Robinson Hall was an ideal council member. “She knows coastal law, she knows coastal policy, teaches it, lives it, has a full grasp of it,” he said.

Robinson Hall also serves on the law committee for Save The Bay, but indicated she would resign from the committee if appointed to the council.

Robinson Hall and her spouse, Jeffrey Hall, a senior director of advancement with the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, own property in Middletown.

Gomez was last appointed to the council in 2014, and his most recent term expired Jan. 31, 2020.

Gomez, a former Little Compton Town Council member and president, has at various points served as the town’s School Committee chair and on the Planning Board, the Zoning Board of Review, and the Budget Committee. He retired from the U.S. Naval Undersea Warfare Center in 1996 and since then has served as a consultant or researcher, according to his LinkedIn profile.

The Senate is expected to vote on the appointments of Gomez and Robinson Hall by the end of the week.

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