RI lawmaker calls for closer look at CRMC after several high profile cases draw criticism
PROVIDENCE — A veteran lawmaker is renewing her call for a legislative commission to take a closer look at how the state’s Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council operates and whether the agency needs a reorganization.
“They’re making really important environmental decisions that are going to affect future generations beyond us,” said Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, a Democrat from Jamestown, who filed a bill late last week calling for a 15-member broad-based commission. Its mission would be to examine CRMC over the next year and bring back recommendations to the General Assembly.
Ruggiero filed the bill after two high-profile cases exposed by The Hummel Report, and published in the Providence Journal, over the past several months: one involving a controversial marina expansion on Block Island that was settled by CRMC out of the public view in December with no notice to opponents. The state Supreme Court - at the urging of Attorney General Peter F. Neronha - rejected that settlement last month.
The second, which involved the expansion of a boatyard in Jamestown last fall, also caught the attention of Neronha, who said the approval process was flawed. Ruggiero filed a similar bill two years ago but it went nowhere under former Speaker Nick Mattiello. Ruggiero said Speaker Joseph Shekarchi encouraged her to fil the bill this session.
Ruggiero said the stories she has heard from constituents and other residents about CRMC decisions have only grown over the past two years.
Ruggiero, first elected in 2008, said she is concerned about the composition and attendance record of the council. “CRMC has a 10-person council, so if three or four members are absent, it gives greater influence to those who do attend board meetings and vote” she told The Hummel Report Tuesday, noting that the approval in the Jamestown boatyard case came on a 4 to 2 vote.
The representative also said the members are all politically appointed and many do not have expertise in environmental issues. Ruggiero noted one is a dental hygienist, one a real estate developer and another the chief executive officer of a cargo shipping company.
The 15-member legislative commission would draw on a wide spectrum of people: including the executive directors of Save the Bay and the Audubon Society of Rhode Island; the town administrator in Jamestown, the chair of the Warwick Planning Commission, the city manager from Newport and the presidents of the Rhode Island Shell Fisherman’s Association and Rhode Island Saltwater and Rhode Island Saltwater Angler’s Association. It would also include two members of the public.
“I look forward to a deep dive into policy issues and robust conversations with our state’s environmental experts….as this commission studies ways we could improve CRMC,” Ruggiero said.
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