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Neronha looks to get involved in Block Island marina case

PROVIDENCE - Attorney General Peter F. Neronha filed a motion Monday with the Rhode Island Supreme Court to intervene in the case of a controversial marina expansion on Block Island that opponents say was settled late last month in a process that froze them out of the process.

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Neronha’s announcement comes the day after a month-long Hummel Report investigation, published in the Providence Sunday Journal, that detailed a 17-year-old effort by the owners of Champlin’s Marina to expand dock space and boat capacity into The Great Salt Pond.


The investigation showed that the state’s Coastal Resources Management Council met with Champlin’s attorney and retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank J. Williams in December to hammer out a settlement that was a scaled-down version of the original proposal in 2003.


They left opponents of the project out of the process after a lawyer for CRMC said the agency would not go forward without their participation. And they approved the settlement at a virtual meeting between Christmas and New Year’s with no notice to the opponents that an agreement had been reached.


“We became concerned when it appeared that the normal regulatory process had been bypassed,” Neronha told the Hummel Report Monday afternoon. “And that regulatory process is important for lots of reasons. It requires an agency to make the appropriate findings, they need to be done in the open so they’re open and transparent.”


Neronha said his office had no reason to get involved until the agreement - a memorandum of understanding filed with the Supreme Court - became public last month and immediately set off a firestorm of criticism on Block Island.


The Committee for The Great Salt Pond, The Block Island Land Trust and The Block Island Conservancy have raised more than half a million dollars to fight the expansion and have been joined in their fight by the Town of New Shoreham and the Conservation Law Foundation. Along the way, the CRMC’s rejection of the expansion has been upheld throughout protracted litigation. It is why, the opponents, said, they wanted no part of mediation, believing it would only give Champlin’s something it had not been able to get over the past 17 years of hearings and litigation.


After waiting nearly seven years for Superior Court Judge Kristen Rodgers to issue a decision that upheld CRMC’s rejection of the plan, Champlin’s appealed to the state Supreme Court. Last fall the high court agreed to hear the appeal.


Champlin’s attorney is Robert D. Goldberg, wife of Supreme Court Justice Maureen Goldberg. She recused herself when the case came to the high court a decade ago and now again with the appeal pending.


Neronha questioned the CRMC and Champlin’s trying to settle the case outside of the framework of the Supreme Court. “It’s essentially an end-run around all of those processes that provide for public input and that build confidence in the decision making,” he said.

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