No expansion for Block Island marina

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Lawyer for Champlin’s Marina contends Rhode Island’s governor unduly influenced council vote

Lawyer for Champlin’s Marina contends Rhode Island’s governor unduly influenced council vote

After more than four hours of emotional testimony, a request by Champlin’s Marina on Block Island to expand its docks was rejected recently by a state council.

The 10 members of Rhode Island’s state Coastal Resources Management Council effectively rejected Champlin’s request to construct 170 feet of new docks on the island’s Great Salt Pond when the council deadlocked in a 5-5 vote over the application. Champlin’s plans to appeal the decision.

“The vote was very disappointing for us,” says Robert Goldberg, a lawyer for Champlin’s. “We feel confident that the evidence is there to permit Champlin’s to move forward with an expansion.”

One day before the vote Goldberg filed a lawsuit accusing Gov. Donald L. Carcieri and his staff of using political tactics to influence the vote against Champlin’s application. “It became widely known in the 11th hour that the governor had influenced how the council members would vote,” Goldberg says. “He called the members to say that he’s against [the application], and not to vote in favor of it.

“The governor has an obligation to follow the law and not tamper with judicial proceedings,” he adds.

Gov. Carcieri has denied the accusations, according to reports, but issued a statement opposing the expansion. “I fear that expanding Champlin’s Marina will seriously threaten the health of the Great Salt Pond,” he says in the statement. “I am also concerned that it will result in the transfer of a valuable public asset into the hands of a private company.

“As governor of Rhode Island,” Carcieri continues, “I have an obligation to preserve our state’s environmental heritage for the benefit of future generations.”

Goldberg had also argued that some members of the CRMC, including chairman Mike Tikoian, should recuse themselves from voting on Champlin’s proposal because of unfavorable comments they made to the media last fall. Tikoian reportedly opened the Feb. 28 meeting by saying that he had not prejudged the project, and was not influenced by others in his vote.

Of the council’s vote, Tikoian says in a statement: “While I and other members of the council respect what the subcommittee presented, there were some lingering questions and issues that needed to be addressed, and were, at the meeting. It is clear from the proceedings that night, and the subsequent votes by council members, that each person heavily weighed the facts before them and voted accordingly.”

The hotly debated expansion proposal was first submitted three years ago, and originally called for 4,000 feet of additional piers that would extend an extra 240 feet into the pond. A CRMC subcommittee reviewed the request and suggested a compromise of 170 feet of new docks.

As of mid-March Goldberg was planning to file an appeal of the council’s decision. He can’t see why Champlin’s, which now accommodates up to 225 boats up to 195 feet, shouldn’t be allowed to expand, he says. “We’ve met all the criteria. Despite what some say, this is environmentally sound.

“There’s an overwhelming demand for more dock space on Block Island,” Goldberg continues. “There hasn’t been an increase in at least 40 years. What this really boils down to is the opposition of the land owners who want to restrict access to the island by the common person. I’m very confident that under the law Champlin’s is entitled to its expansion.”