New Legislation Would Reform The CRMC

The Coastal Resource Management Council is in dire need of reform and it looks like we may be on track to make that happen. Save the Bay has made it a legislative priority:

The RI Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC)—the agency charged with protecting the coastal environment, ensuring public access to and along the shoreline, enforcing coastal laws, and managing development—does not run like a normal administrative agency. Instead, it has an outdated structure that lacks accountability, invites abuse, and causes delays in permitting coastal development.

This year, Attorney General Peter Neronha taken part in the crafting of the legislation. It was his office that fought the controversial Champlin’s Marina expansion — resulting from a private side deal — to the R.I. Supreme Court and won. This was when the general public learned how utterly compromised this agency is.

This year’s legislation, sponsored by Democrats Sen. Victoria Gu (Westerly, South Kingstown) and Rep. Terri Cortvriend (Portsmouth, Middletown), would replace the CRMC with a new Department of Coastal Resources under the executive branch. As it stands now, the CRMC does have a professional staff with degrees in engineering, marine biology, and environmental sciences, but all decisions are made by a 10-member council of appointees who need no particular expertise.

Alex Kuffner’s piece in the ProJo, covering the history and current status of the legislation, reminds us how the council is currently constituted:

Critics say the structure, which puts so much power in the hands of the voting council, is at the root of the agency’s problems. Appointees, who are nominated by the governor and approved by the Senate, have included in recent years a dental hygienist and the head of a chain of physical therapy offices.

“They’re making these big decisions on our coastal resources, but they sometimes end up undermining our CRMC staff’s recommendations, resulting in major lawsuits,” Gu said. “We want people who are making those decisions to be qualified.”

When we first wrote about this last year, that list included a liquor store owner. File under: The death of expertise. It is way past time to end this relic of Rhode Island’s sad history of political patronage.

This year’s legislation has been written by the Attorney General’s office and Save the Bay. From the state’s press release:

The director of the new department would be a cabinet-level position that would be appointed by the governor, confirmed by the Senate and subject to the same accountability and oversight as other department heads. . .

The bill would also create a new community advisory committee to provide the department with input on policy and program improvements and require the new department to hire a full-time staff attorney. Having a full-time staff attorney, advocates say, would bring focus and accountability. Currently CRMC contracts with a law firm that has other clients and interests.

We are the Ocean State! Whether you swim in it, fish in it, live on it, grow oysters, eat oysters, or own any of the related coastal or maritime businesses so pivotal to our economy, these decisions are critical.

We’ll give Topher Hamblett, executive director for Save the Bay, the last word:

Rhode Islanders expect and deserve a coastal agency that is free of politics and conflicts of interest. Removing the politically-appointed Council from the structure is the right thing to do. Save The Bay applauds Attorney General Neronha, Senator Gu and Representative Cortvriend for introducing these bills.


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