Panel chosen to reorganize CRMC model

Two Jamestown residents have been appointed to serve on a legislative commission that will be tasked with studying the state agency in charge of coastal development.

Rep. Deb Ruggiero, who serves Jamestown and Middletown in the state legislature, and Town Administrator Jamie Hainsworth were appointed Aug. 12 by House Speaker Joe Skekarchi. Ruggiero introduced a bill in April to create the commission after the Coastal Resources Management Council came under fire for its decisions on two Rhode Island marinas in 2021. The charge of the 15-member commission is to comprehensively study and provide recommendations for the reorganization of the agency by April 1. The House voted 64-0 in June to approve the commission.

The coastal agency is the lead agency in charge of reviewing proposals, including offshore wind projects, dredging, development, marinas and aquaculture, in Rhode Island’s 19 coastal communities. The agency, which is governed through a gubernatorial-appointed commission that is not required to have technical experience, was criticized by Jamestown officials in March.

“The town council respectfully requests that those whom you would appoint to the CRMC should be experienced, skilled and knowledgeable about the issues that the council addresses, which are becoming increasingly complex,” Hainsworth wrote to Gov. Dan McKee. “Members should be transparent, ethical, fair, honest and attentive to the issues that seaside communities face.”

Hainsworth also said attendance is an issue. During the hearing regarding the Jamestown Boat Yard in October, he said only six of the 10 members were available to cast a vote.

“Attendance at meetings is imperative,” he wrote, “and those who fail to attend a majority of meetings should be replaced. Decisions they render are serious and have longlasting impacts on communities like Jamestown.”

The idea to write the letter was presented in March by Mary Meagher, vice president of the council. She said the “Block Island fiasco” on the expansion of the Great Salt Pond marina was an example of egregious decision-making by the council. The attorney general of Rhode Island, Jamestown resident Peter Neronha, had to intervene in that case.

“We just need more skillful people on that board,” Meagher said.

A month later, Neronha objected to the ruling to allow dredging at the Jamestown Boat Yard. He said the commissioners “has confused and frustrated the public’s trust” through its decision-making process.

“The CRMC was formed by the General Assembly in 1972,” Ruggiero said. “A lot has happened over the past 50 years. I believe it’s time to review coastal management procedures, the composition and experience of the board, and identify opportunities to make the CRMC better for the future of Rhode Island and its residents.”