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Neronha slams CRMC over approval of Jamestown Boat Yard expansion

PROVIDENCE — For the second time in two months Attorney General Peter F. Neronha is questioning how the state’s Coastal Resources Management Council handled a request for a waterfront expansion, this time from a boatyard in Jamestown, saying the agency skipped required steps in the approval process.


In a strongly worded four-page letter Monday to the agency’s chairwoman, Jennifer Cervenka, Neronha said there were “inadequacies” in a draft decision, adding that the way CRMC made its decision “confused and frustrated the public’s trust in the structured and formal agency decision-making process designed to protect our environment.”


In February, the attorney general intervened in a controversial expansion at Champlin’s Marina on Block Island, which had reached a settlement with the CRMC after 17 years of hearings and litigation — without including opponents in the process.


The agency approved the agreement the week between Christmas and New Year’s with no public notice that a settlement was being voted on. Neronha objected strenuously to the process and the Rhode Island Supreme Court last month rejected the settlement.


This latest case involves a request by the owners of the Jamestown Boat Yard last fall to dredge 2,000 cubic yards that would allow for the expansion of three of its piers. The owners said it would allow them to keep additional vessels at their docks and not have to move them in and out, according to the tides.


The CRMC held public meetings via Zoom on consecutive Tuesdays in late October before voting 4-2 to approve the request. Cervenka voted against the proposal.


The agency’s executive director, Jeffrey Willis, issued an 11-page decision on Dec. 31. Neronha noted that Willis did so without the full council stating findings of facts and conclusions of law, as required by the Administrative Procedures Act. The attorney general referred to it in his letter to Cervenka as “the so-called final agency decision” and said it “caused a great deal of confusion for the objectors, and the public, which may have deprived objectors their rights to time prepare for an appeal.”


The Dumplings Association, which owns a pier and beach next to the boatyard, appealed the decision to the Rhode Island Superior Court, but the two-week dredging was completed in January.


“It’s pretty hard if an agency is not transparent,” Neronha told the Hummel Report on Monday, referring to CRMC’s handling of the Champlin’s case. “Or if an agency isn’t making the appropriate findings, as we believe in the [Jamestown] matter, then it’s very difficult to challenge those findings if someone chooses to do so.”


Neronha added:  “Getting the procedures right really matters. It matters for transparency, it matters so the public can understand why an agency reached a decision and then if somebody wants to challenge the finding, then a court can adequately review it.”


Neronha’s letter comes as a shot across the bow before CRMC holds its semi-monthly meeting Tuesday evening.


On Friday the agency filed an agenda that includes an item: “Additional ratification of decision …. Jamestown Boat Yard.”


The agenda says it also plans to hold a closed session to discuss potential litigation. It is unclear if the litigation involves the Jamestown Boat Yard case.


When reached by The Hummel Report Monday afternoon, Cervenka said she had scanned the attorney general’s letter, but not had a chance to go over it in detail.


As a result of the Champlin’s controversy, the Senate cancelled former Gov. Gina Raimondo’s reappointment of Cervenka as CRMC chairwoman, Raymond Coia as vice chairman and Donald Gomez as a member.


A spokesman for Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said Monday that no further action has taken place on the nominations.


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