Providence, RI February 18, 2010 – Affirming the need for proper procedure when deciding the fate of the State’s vulnerable coastal resources, the Rhode Island Supreme Court today overturned a Superior Court ruling that would have allowed the expansion of Champlin’s Marina into Block Island’s Great Salt Pond. The decision was hailed by Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and others, who argued that the Superior Court exceeded its authority when it decided in February 2009 to circumvent the Coastal Resources Management Council’s (CRMC) permit review process and issue the Champlin’s Marina expansion permit itself.
“We are gratified that the Court agreed with our analysis and ruled in favor of good process,” said CLF staff attorney Jerry Elmer, who argued the case before the Supreme Court. “Today’s decision puts responsibility for determining what’s best for Great Salt Pond back where it belongs – in the hands of those who are charged with preserving our treasured coastal resources for future generations.”
With the Supreme Court’s decision, the case will be sent back to the Coastal Resources Management Council, which will be required to correct procedural errors that occurred in the permit review process and to vote again on the permit application.
Tricia Jedele, director of CLF’s Rhode Island Advocacy Center, stated, “Rhode Island needs cohesive, ethical and courageous management of its coastal resources if we are to adequately protect our state’s greatest assets. This decision underscores both the enormous challenge ahead of us and the mandate to get it right.”
The Champlin’s Marina case dates back to 2003, when Champlin’s Marina applied to the CRMC for a permit to expand into the environmentally sensitive Great Salt Pont of Block Island. The CRMC held 23 hearings into Champlin’s application. In February 2006, by a 5-5 tie vote, the CRMC declined to approve Champlin’s permit application. Champlin’s appealed the permit denial to the Rhode Island Superior Court, which held a lengthy hearing into Champlin’s allegations of impropriety at the CRMC. In February 2009, the Superior Court issued a 91-page decision in which it ruled that there had, indeed, been improper procedures in the CRMC. At that point, the Superior Court should have sent the case back to the CRMC in order to correct the improper procedures and re-vote. Instead, the Superior Court exceeded its legal authority and itself simply granted the disputed permit to Champlin’s. That latter act – the granting of the disputed permit by the Superior Court – was reversed today by the Supreme Court.