By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Save The Bay, one of Rhode Island’s largest environmental organizations, doesn't like the makeup of the state's coastal regulatory board and has taken legal action challenging Gov. Gina Raimondo’s appointees.
Last June, Raimondo raised eyebrows by replacing three environmentalists on the Coastal Resources Managment Council (CRMC) with appointees with backgrounds in business and government. Opponents of a natural-gas cooling plant proposed for the city’s waterfront argued that one of the new CRMC appointees, board chairwoman Jennifer Cervenka, supported the National Grid project while working for the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce.
Cervenka presided over CRMCs unanimous approval of portions of the project. Michelle Collie, a new board member, also voted in favor of shoreline construction by National Grid. The third new member, Lisette Gomes, was absent for the vote.
Save The Bay has long opposed the appointment process and instead favors having agency experts issue or deny permits based on set criteria, such as the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management does for air and water pollution permits.
According to Save The Bay, Rhode Island law states that 16 members can serve on the CRMC board. Eight are appointed by the governor and eight appointed by the Legislature. The law also requires that the majority of council members represent coastal communities and are either elected or appointed officials at the time of their appointment.
But the General Assembly has failed to amend CRMC rules to reflect a 2008 decision by the Rhode Island Supreme Court, a ruling that was made to comply with the state’s so-called separation of powers amendment. There are currently 10 members on the CRMC board and all are governor appointees.
“We sought information from the governor’s office and reviewed the appointing papers of the members of the council,” said Jonathan Stone, executive director of Save The Bay. “The governor’s office was unable to provide us with evidence that the council includes members who were elected or appointed officials at the time of their appointment or that the majority of members represent coastal communities.”
Stone said Raimondo is attempting to give some of the members appointed positions to comply with state law, “which may technically meet the requirement of the law but circumvents its intent. It also appears that the governor may have exceeded her authority by appointing more than the eight allowable by law,” Stone said.
On April 20, Save The Bay filed a complaint in state Superior Court that asks a judge to make clear how many CRMC members the governor has the authority to appoint and the necessary qualifications of those members.
CRMC is a state agency that implements and enforces coastal policies. The CRMC board conducts hearings and rules on contested coastal issues. Stone said the council’s makeup is a matter of public trust.
“While Save The Bay has serious concerns about the current structure of the agency, we are today seeking clarity about the makeup of the council and the number and qualifications of the governor’s appointments to ensure that Rhode Island’s coastal communities and coastal users are properly represented, as was clearly the intention of the law,” Stone said.