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RI attorney general opposes Champlin’s Marina expansion plans on Block Island

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 3/5/2021 Alexa Gagosz

NEW SHOREHAM, R.I. — Local and state agencies have battled over plans by Champlin’s Marina to expand on Block Island since 2003. .

Advocates for the expansion claim they want more access through the marina. Critics have called for limiting commercial development on the island, claiming that an expansion would hurt environmental resources.

This week, Champlin’s suffered another blow to their long-sought development plans.

On Thursday, Judge Kristen E. Rodgers ruled that the Coastal Resource Management Council (CRMC), which is the state agency that controls waterfront permitting, acted appropriately in rejecting the marina’s expansion in 2011 and 2013.

And on Friday, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Neronha announced that his office had filed a 40-page memorandum in the Rhode Island Supreme Court in opposition to a motion to accept a new proposed agreement between Champlin’s Realty Associates and the CRMC. Neronha described the proposed agreement to expand into Block Island’s Great Salt Pond as “inappropriate” and “invalid,” and urged the court not to approve it.

Neronha said his office has a constitutional and common law obligation to protect the environment and shared natural resources and that it was his job to intervene to protect the public’s interest.

“Any resolution of this matter will have a lasting impact on the natural resources of Block Island,” said Neronha, who originally filed a petition to intervene on the matter on Feb. 8, which the Supreme Court granted four days later. “It is critical that agencies’ final decisions are visible and accessible, and any facts the agency relied on to support its decisions are clear.”

Since 2003, the Committee for the Great Salt Pond, the Block Island Land Trust, the Block Island Conservancy, and the Town of New Shoreham have worked to prevent the Marina’s expansion efforts, a development they claim would significantly displace the other uses in the pond, which includes the navigational channel and the Town’s mooring field. They also claim that the expansion would damage the environmental health of the pond.

The CRMC unanimously denied the marina’s proposed expansion in 2011. They again rejected the proposal in 2013 when there were allegations of the business being treated unfairly.

Last year, the Rhode Island Superior Court denied the marina’s appeal and Champlin’s subsequent appeal sat with the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

But in December 2020, the CRMC entered into a closed-session mediation with Champlin’s Marina and granted them some dock expansion, which the town claims was done “behind their back.”

That mediation with Champlin’s attorney, Robert Goldberg, resulted in a memorandum of understanding that was signed by the two parties. If granted by the R.I. Supreme Court, the marina would have the right to extend 156 feet farther into the pond, which is in close proximity to the navigation channel and the town mooring fields. On Jan. 8, the CRMC and Champlin filed a joint motion with the R.I. Supreme Court to approve the MOU, which Neronha said was reached after “off-the-record negotiations.”

Goldberg’s spokeswoman, Dyana Koelsch, told the Globe in a statement Friday that they disagreed with Neronha’s opinion.

“The MOU was reached fairly and under the parameters of the law. This case has languished for 17 years and only with significant concessions by Champlin’s was an agreement reached,” read the statement. “While agreement was reached in mediation, the issue still remains in the purview of the R.I. Supreme Court and we are respectfully asking the court to review and approve the MOU.”

The statement went on to say that Neronha’s brief is based on an outdated proposal, which Champlin’s had abandoned years ago.

“The expansion Champlin’s agreed to under the MOU is less than half the size than what attorney general is addressed in his brief,” said Koelsch.

Neronha noted that the Town of New Shoreham and other parties who have been involved in challenging the marina’s application over the past 17 years were not included in settlement discussions. He said the memorandum of understanding that Champlin’s attorney and CRMC adopted was in executive session, which was not open to the public.

“The intervenors were invited to participate in the mediation, and for reasons not explained to us, they declined,” said Koelsch.

A spokeswoman for the CRMC told the Globe Friday that the agency could not comment on ongoing litigation matters before the Supreme Court.

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