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RI Supreme Court: Champlin's Marina case on Block Island 'must be brought to an end'

PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island Supreme Court has ordered a lower court judge to examine the validity of a controversial agreement between the Coastal Resources Management Council and the owners of a Block Island marina that would expand its footprint into the Great Salt Pond.

It is the latest twist in a case that began 18 years ago and within the last year alternately had the owners of Champlin’s Marina and the opponents of the project believing each side had prevailed.


“It is clear to the Court that this eighteen-year saga must be brought to an end,” the two-page order said. “To do so, it will be necessary to determine the validity (or not) of the purported settlement between Champlin’s and the CRMC.”


The agreement, first detailed publicly in a Hummel Report investigation in February, was branded a “secret backroom deal” by a coalition of project opponents. The process left them out of the negotiations and gave them no notice that the CRMC was voting on a settlement during a Zoom meeting on a weeknight between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

The vote came after Champlin’s attorney, Robert D. Goldberg, and the CRMC’s attorney, Anthony DeSisto, met with retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Williams. They had brought in Williams to negotiate a settlement to a case that had worked its way up and down the agency and court systems for most of the last two decades.


DeSisto conceded that the negotiations went ahead without the opponents, even though he assured them in an email they wouldn’t unless they had a seat at the table. The opponents include the Town of New Shoreham, the Block Island Land Trust, the Committee for the Great Salt Pond and the Block Island Conservancy, which have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees.


The day after The Hummel Report investigation was published, Attorney General Peter F. Neronha filed a motion with the Supreme Court to intervene,


The settlement between Champlin’s and the CRMC was a scaled-down version of the original proposal from 2003 that would have taken four acres of the harbor, extending the pier 240 feet farther into the water and adding 3,000 feet of pier to the existing 6,000, installed an additional 743 feet of floating dock and increased by 140 vessels the 250 already allowed at the facility. Champlin’s also has a hotel, restaurant and swimming pool.


The opponents argued that the “settlement” should have gone through the same review in front of the CRMC that the original proposal did, and that it essentially froze out any public comment.


The Supreme Court ordered that the review by a Superior Court judge must be completed within 90 days and sent back upstairs to the high court.


“Champlin’s claims to have settled the underlying case with the Coastal Resources Management Council,” the order states. “These parties have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding, which purports to ‘serve as the CRMC’s decision relative to this matter.’


“The [opponents] deny Champlin’s assertions and contest the propriety of the settlement and the validity of the MOU,” it added, noting that the Conservation Law Foundation and the attorney general have also filed a complaint in Superior Court seeking judicial review of the agreement.


The high court said it was sending the issue back to Superior Court for “findings of fact and conclusions of law concerning the ‘propriety and conclusiveness’ of the purported settlement and the validity of the MOU.”


Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg, who is married to Champlin’s attorney, Robert Goldberg, recused herself from the case.


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