Former Chief Justice Williams Questions Neronha’s Motivation to Intervene in Block Island Case

Tuesday, February 09, 2021


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Former Supreme Court Frank Williams and AG Peter Neronha

Former Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Frank Williams is questioning Attorney General Peter Neronha’s jurisdiction — and motivation — to petition the Rhode Island Supreme Court to intervene in a mediated case involving a controversial Block Island marina’s proposed expansion. 

Williams served as the mediator in the case between the marina — Champlin’s Realty Associates — and the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC). 

In the motion filed with the Rhode Island Supreme Court on Monday, Neronha asked to intervene in the proceedings to “address concerns about a recent closed-door mediation between the CRMC and Champlin’s that would allow for a marina expansion.”


“This Office has a constitutional and common law obligation to protect the public interest, our environment, and our shared natural resources. When it becomes apparent that the process designed to protect our resources is not being followed, it is our job to intervene in order to protect the public interest,” said Neronha. 

Marina Battle, Questions Over Mediation, and More

Champlin’s had applied to the CRMC back in 2003 to expand its marina on the Great Salt Pond by including into areas that are considered “part of the public trust” and have town moorings, adding docks to accommodate 140 more boats, according to the Block Island Times.

The town, joined by the Committee for the Great Salt Pond, the Block Island Land Trust, the Block Island Conservancy and the Conservation Law Foundation opposed the application, and the CRMC ultimately turned it down.

“Then, suddenly in October [2020], Champlin’s appealed the decision to the R.I. Supreme Court, which agreed to take on the case,” The Times reported in January 2021. “Evidently the town was asked if it would like to enter into mediation on the case, and chose not to – preferring to see it play out in court.”

The Times reported that lead attorney R. Daniel Prentiss on behalf of the opposition groups sent them a statement saying, “The town was apparently misled, having been told that CRMC would only ‘mediate’ if the town agreed to join the process, which it did not.”

“The interveners were given the chance to mediate,” said Williams on Monday. “They knew we wanted them to participate and advised the New Shoreham council through their solicitor. They refused.”

“CRMC and Champlin reached out to me to mediate this, as I do all the time — privately — and we mediated,” said Williams. 

Williams said the closed-door mediation was a “normal process” for a settlement when there is litigtion. “This was already before the Supreme Court,” said Williams.

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“They wanted, and I agreed, to invite the Town of New Shoreham and the other interveners to be part of the discussion,” said Williams. “They’re interveners. They’re not parties to the litigation — that’s Champlin and CRMC. The interveners are only entitled to notice and are not the deciding factor.”

“It’s not known why Neronha’s taken action,” said Williams. “I’ve already mediated and its settled and it’s now before the court. From what I understand his staff are taking a position that if the parties refused to mediate — the interveners refused to mediate — then you can’t go forward with mediation.”

“This stands mediation authority on its head. There’s no statute that says this. It’s the parties that are the deciding factors, not the interveners or the mediators,” said Williams. “I think there’s a problem [for Neronha] with jurisdiction here, and whether the Attorney General has the jurisdiction to intervene.”

“I have the utmost respect for Peter Neronha. I don’t get it. They haven’t called me — not that they should,” said Williams. 

When asked if he thought the move by Neronha was political, Williams responded with the following.

“Everything is political in this state. I‘m 80 — I get it. I understand,” said Williams. “But deferring to [Neronha] and his staff, it doesn’t make sense that they’d get involved in a mediated settlement in Supreme Court.”

Neronha Makes Case 

Neronha’s office said by participating in this case, the state “seeks to protect Rhode Island’s unique coastal environment and ensure that the CRMC follows the legal requirements necessary to a democratic process before approving Champlin’s bid to expand its marina.”

“While I understand the CRMC’s and Champlin’s desire for finality, that cannot come at the expense of an established, transparent, regulatory process — one that has been approved by the courts,” he added. “To do that, agencies’ final decisions must be visible and accessible, and any facts the agency relied on to support its decisions must be clear.

Neronha said that the settlement agreement recently presented to the Court for approval was formed outside of the public regulatory process and “does not account for the factual findings that formed the basis for the CRMC’s 2011 decision denying Champlin’s application to expand.”

“This matter has a long and complex history, and its resolution will have a lasting impact on the natural resources of Block Island,” said Neronha. “We are concerned that proper procedures are not being followed and we have made that concern known to the Court.”

The recently developed plan, referred to as a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), was filed by CRMC and Champlin’s with the Court on January 8, 2021. 

Neronha in his release claimed, “The Town of New Shoreham and other parties who have been involved in challenging Champlin’s application over the past 17 years were not included in the settlement discussions where the MOU was developed. The MOU was adopted by the CRMC in an executive session, which means it was not open to the public.”

Neronha’s office opposes the MOU between the CRMC and Champlin’s claiming the “CRMC negotiated the MOU without jurisdiction to do so; the MOU was created without following the CRMC’s regulations and procedures or provisions; the MOU does not comply with the Administrative Procedures Act because it does not contain findings of fact to explain or support its new position with regard to the marina expansion; and the settlement process failed to comply with the steps the Court required the CRMC to follow when considering a new plan.”


Monday’s motion to intervene is the Neronha administration’s first involvement in the “longstanding legal battle” that began in 2003, when Champlin’s first sought approval from the CRMC to expand its marina into Block Island’s Great Salt Pond. 

In 2006, the CRMC denied the application, following a subcommittee recommendation and a full council vote and decision. Champlin’s appealed the CRMC’s decision, which traveled all the way up to the Rhode Island Supreme Court.  In 2011, the CRMC again voted to deny Champlin’s application for the marina expansion.

Champlin’s appealed the decision to the Superior Court and, in February 2020, the Court upheld CRMC’s decision to deny Champlin’s application. Following that ruling, Champlin’s filed a writ of certiorari in October 2020, asking the Rhode Island Supreme Court to review the lower court’s decision. The Rhode Island Supreme Court granted certiorari and now has exclusive jurisdiction to make decisions in the case. 

Champlin’s attorney is top State House lobbyist Bob Goldberg — whose wife, Maureen McKenna Goldberg, is a member of the Rhode Island Supreme Court. 



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