In 2003, Champlin’s Marina filed its request with the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) to expand its marina in Block Island’s Great Salt Pond. At 10 years (and still running), this is probably CLF’s longest-running active litigation. This post is written to apprise you of the latest developments in this continuing saga.
You may recall that in January 2011, the full CRMC voted unanimously to deny Champlin’s a permit to expand its marina in the Great Salt Pond. Champlin’s appealed to the Superior Court, as it had a legal right to do. In the Superior Court, Champlin’s filed a brief raising a rather curious issue: Champlin’s claimed that it had suffered a violation of its Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights – because CRMC had granted a permit for Payne’s Dock to expand, but had denied Champlin’s application to expand. The Superior Court decided that Champlin’s civil rights claim should be heard first in the CRMC (and then be heard again in the Superior Court). As a result, the Champlin’s case is now simultaneously in two different venues: Superior Court and CRMC!
February 12 Hearing
The most recent hearing before the CRMC was earlier this week , Tuesday, February 12. As usual for these Champlin’s hearings, there were quite a few island residents present to watch the proceedings.
At the start of the meeting, CRMC Chairwoman Anne M. Livingston addressed a motion by Champlin’s that she recuse herself from the case because she had spoken about the case to a former CRMC member last December at a social gathering. Livingston acknowledged that her comments had been “indiscreet” (her word). She said that she was confident that she could act impartially in the matter; but she said she would recuse herself “in an abundance of caution.” Livingston then left the hearing for the rest of the evening.
The main witness on February 12 was Kenneth W. Anderson, chief engineer for the CRMC. Anderson testified that he has worked on every marina application that has come before the CRMC over the last two decades, including both the Champlin’s and Payne’s Dock applications.
Anderson testified that the procedure that CRMC used for handling these two applications were exactly identical. In both cases CRMC analyzed the application in light of the controlling CRMC regulation in order to determine whether the (respective) application comported with the regulation. Anderson testified that there was a very simple reason that the Champlin’s application was rejected while the Payne’s application was approved: Champlin’s application violated the applicable regulation; Payne’s application did not. That is, the reason the two applications had different legal outcomes was because the law required different outcomes – not because of disparate treatment or prejudice.
More specifically, Anderson testified about four major differences between the two different applications:
- CRMC regulations require all marinas in the state to make efficient use of existing facilities. Anderson testified that Payne’s makes efficient use of its existing space, but that Champlin’s is grossly inefficient. Thus, the regulation requires Champlin’s to make more efficient use of its present space before expansion can be allowed.
- Payne’s proposed expansion did not impinge on existing mooring fields, but Champlin’s proposed expansion did impinge on existing mooring fields.
- Payne’s proposed expansion would not have an adverse impact on safety of navigation though the Great Salt Pond, but Champlin’s proposed expansion would have an adverse impact on navigation safety.
- Finally, the size and scope of the proposed expansions were vastly different: Champlin’s proposal was, in fact, ten times the size of the proposed expansion. In a small area like the Great Salt Pond, Anderson testified, this factor is of major importance.
The CRMC had hoped to finish the hearing on February 12, but it came nowhere close to that goal. Champlin’s lawyer, Bob Goldberg, did not even finish his cross-examination of Kenneth Anderson; there are also more witnesses on both sides yet to be heard. The next hearing date was scheduled for Tuesday, February 26, at 5:15 PM. (If you plan to attend, check the CRMC website for confirmation of meeting time and for details on meeting location.) After the hearing is over, the parties will be given time (probably six to eight weeks) to brief the equal-protection issue.
I remain very confident that the CRMC will advise the Superior Court that there was no violation of equal protection in the cases of Champlin’s Marina and Payne’s Dock. Simply put, the different CRMC decisions in the two different cases was a result of different facts in the two cases, not a result of prejudice or civil rights violations. That is, the reason that Champlin’s will not be able to prove that the differing CRMC decisions were a result of a civil rights violation is that there are no facts to support that argument.
When the case returns to Superior Court, Judge Kristin Rodgers will also have to rule on Champlin’s equal-protection claim. Based on the facts in the record, I am confident that she too will rule against Champlin’s.
After Superior Court, Champlin’s may attempt to appeal (yet again!) to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. Unfortunately, CLF’s longest-running active case shows no signs of ending any time soon.
Champlin’s has shown just how lucrative it expects its proposed marina expansion into the Great Salt Pond to be. Champlin’s has no fewer than three lawyers on its side, and the case has already gone to the Rhode Island Supreme Court more than once. Litigating this case is, of course, expensive for CLF as well. We have been deeply grateful for your past financial support, because that support has enabled us to stay in this long fight. Please continue to support CLF’s Champlin’s litigation. You can do so here, on our website.