Attorney General applauds R.I. Supreme Court decision denying marina expansion in Block Island’s Great Salt Pond

Published on Friday, October 14, 2022

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Attorney General Peter F. Neronha issued the following statement after today’s decision by the Rhode Island Supreme Court in Champlin's v. Coastal Resources Management Council – a case concerning Rhode Island’s coastal resources and the regulatory process designed to protect them:

Today’s decision by our state’s Supreme Court is a win for all Rhode Islanders not only because of what it means for the protection of our environment and coastal resources, but also because it reaffirms the principle that we were fighting for: regulatory agencies have to follow the rules and cannot engage in ad-hoc, behind-closed-door, deals that ignore their own procedures and evidence for the sake of expediency. 

Nearly two years ago, the Attorney General intervened in the legal dispute over the proposed expansion of a marina in Bock Island’s Great Salt Pond because of an attempt by Champlin’s Marina and the Coastal Resources Management Council to circumvent the public regulatory process.

Regulatory agencies in Rhode Island have been given extraordinary powers by the General Assembly to make decisions that directly and significantly impact the people of this state. Under long-settled Rhode Island law, this grant of power is conditioned on several things, including a requirement that their quasi-judicial decision-making process be transparent and provide for public input, and that every agency decision be supported by specific findings of fact and conclusions of law that objectively justify the decision.

Every Rhode Island regulatory agency must follow these rules, codified in the Administrative Procedures Act. The Coastal Resources Management Council. The Department of Environmental Management. The Department of Health. The Department of Business Regulation. The Public Utilities Commission. And more. Proceeding in this way, and only in this way, ensures merit-based public decision-making, instills public confidence in that transparent process, and, in the event of an appeal from the agency decision, allows a reviewing court and the public to know precisely what the regulatory agency did and, most importantly, why.

Today’s decision clearly and unequivocally reaffirms these principles. The Supreme Court made two important findings today. First, it held that the CRMC had no authority to engage in “private mediation” with Champlin’s and settle the case while it was on appeal. The Court stated, “In light of the many competing activities and the intense public interest which they generate, it is of the utmost importance that the CRMC operate under a clear set of parameters.” In so ruling, the Supreme Court agreed with our position that the remand justice “erred in finding that the MOU was a proper exercise of the CRMC’s authority.” The Court stated, “Neither the remand justice, the CRMC, nor Champlin’s cite to any caselaw or statutory law that supports the notion that the CRMC’s responsibilities to the public end at the point a contested agency decision results in litigation before our court system.” The Court, citing to CRMC’s own regulations, thereby reaffirmed that the law applicable to this agency requires “an open, traceable decision-making process [which] is essential for an effective coastal management program.”

Second, the Supreme Court held that the judgment issued by Superior Court Associate Justice Kristen E. Rodgers on June 17, 2020 upholding CRMC’s 2011 denial of Champlin’s application to expand the marina was correct and well supported by the evidence.”