By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
Three outspoken environmentalists on the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) board were not asked to return to the committee, and Gov. Gina Raimondo isn’t saying much about it.
Off the 10-member board are chairwoman Anne Maxwell Livingston, Paul Beaudette and Tony Affigne. Raymond Coia, Michael Hudner and Jerry Sahagian were reappointed.
Livingston and Affigne served two three-year terms, and Beaudette served a single term. All three were appointed by former Gov. Lincoln Chafee. Members typically serve at least two full terms, while others serve much longer, such as Sahagian, who has been on the council for 20 years.
The new members are Lisette Gomes, Michelle Collie and Jennifer Cervenka. Cervenka, a private-practice attorney who specializes in environmental regulations, will replace Livingston as chair of the CRMC board. Gomes is a private-practice attorney and assistant city solicitor for Pawtucket and Central Falls. Collie is president and chief executive office for a chain of physical-therapy centers.
Affigne is a political science professor at Providence College who specializes in social- and environmental-justice issues. Affigne was unhappy that he was notified of his removal at about the same time the Senate confirmed his replacement on June 28. He called Raimondo’s office but wasn't given a full explanation.
“I had no idea I was not going to be renewed," Affigne said. "It came as a surprise."
Beaudette, the eastern vice chairman for the National Wildlife Federation and past president of the Environment Council of Rhode Island, learned of his departure in casual discussions with fellow council members following a June 27 CRMC meeting.
“I honestly felt I was doing my best, attending meetings, public hearings and presentations," Beaudette said. "As a public representative, I argued for public interests on environmental and coastal issues."
Affigne and Beaudette stood apart from the rest of the council by voting against repairing a failed seawall next to the Ocean Mist tavern in the Matunuck Beach community of South Kingstown. Raimondo spoke favorably of the controversial project when she visited the tavern in 2016.
At CRMC meetings, Affigne was an advocate for environmental-justice concerns. In recent months, he called for greater transparency and improved public outreach for the permitting of the proposed natural gas liquefaction facility on the Providence waterfront. Affigne was also a vocal supporter of the Deepwater Wind wind farm. He was one of the few council members to ask pointed questions when the project encountered problems and safety issues during construction.
Beaudette and Livingston also supported the Block Island Wind Farm.
“I was very proud of the work we did on the turbines,” Livingston said.
When she joined the council in 2011, Livingston intended to advocate for public access to the shoreline. But much of the council’s time was devoted to crafting ocean and shoreline management plans, known as SAMPs. At meetings, Livingston gave equal time to developers and environmental advocates. She wasn't against continuing hearings so that all stakeholders could speak.
Raimondo’s office gave ecoRI News the following explanation for the changes on the council. “[T]hose members’ terms had expired. The Governor is always looking for new ideas and leadership on the state’s Boards and Commissions.”
Livingston said changes on the council are typically announced closer to January, when the General Assembly begins its session. But she excused the late notice as part of a long list of executive duties.
“I think it’s a difficult thing for the governor to track those things and keep it going,” she said.
The council itself has been a controversial regulatory body for years. In the past, seats on the CRMC board have been left unfilled. Until 2008, members of the General Assembly could serve on the council and appoint themselves as members.
There has been an unspoken struggle between appointing pro-development members and proponents of shoreline conservation. Environmental groups such as Save The Bay prefer that the council be replaced by state permitting officials who decline or approve permits based on set criteria, much like the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management does for pollution permits.
“It is Save The Bay's position that the agency should be restructured, and all permitting and enforcement matters should be managed by staff, and appeals should be managed through an independent hearing officer,” said Topher Hamblett, Save The Bay’s director of advocacy and policy. “Both DEM and CRMC are charged by law to operate this way. DEMs works this way. CRMC does not. That has to change.”