Longtime member resigns from RI’s Coastal Agency
PROVIDENCE — For years, the board that oversees the Ocean State’s coastal regulations has been working with vacancies, and last month it lost a longtime member.
The Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) is a 10-member board that has the final say on most Coastal Authority decisions. CRMC executive director Jeff Willis actually reports to the council and not to the governor, as most heads of state government departments traditionally do.
But the council hasn’t had a full list since 2019 and there have been two regular vacancies since the pandemic. Council members are appointed by the governor and must be confirmed by the Senate, but Governor Dan McKee has delayed filling vacancies.
Earlier this year, two vacancies became three. In January, longtime council member Jerry Sahagian, who served in some capacity on the board for more than two decades, submitted his resignation to the governor’s office. The Saunderstown resident, a real estate developer and liquor store owner, was last appointed and confirmed in early 2017 and was still in office despite his term having ended three years ago. State law permits councilors to serve for an expired term until replaced.
“Mr. Sahagian served on the commission for years and the governor is grateful for his service,” a spokesman for the governor wrote in a statement to ecoRI News. “At this time, the governor continues to seek qualified candidates.”
As one of the longest-serving CRMC members, Sahagian was a prominent member of the council, typically taking the lead in discussing projects under council consideration. But he, along with other current members of the Council, has drawn scrutiny and controversy in the past. Most recently, a backdoor deal to permit the expansion of Champlin’s Marina into Block Island’s Great Salt Pond spurred Jonathan Stone, then CEO of Save The Bay, to demand the removal of the members who voted to approve the project .
Council members have also come under fire for a lack of background or expertise in coastal politics or environmental issues, with state law only specifying qualifications for members based on the community they represent.
According to the foreign minister’s website, Sahagian was a member of the council, which represented a coastal community as a member of the public. The website also lists two former members, Lisette Gomes and Michael Hudner, as members of the council.
Six members of the council must be from Rhode Island communities—three from communities with fewer than 25,000 residents and three from communities with more than 25,000 residents. At least five of them must serve as elected or appointed officers within the community they represent.
Here’s who’s left on the council:
The director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management or an agent is an ex officio member. Ron Gagnon, an administrator in the department’s Customer and Technical Support office, usually represents DEM at meetings.
Chairman Raymond Coia and Patricia Reynolds represent both communities of more than 25,000 residents. Coia, who served as council vice-chair under previous chair Jennifer Cervenka, represents Cranston and serves as an administrator at the New England Laborers Health and Safety Fund. His last term expired in January 2020.
Reynolds, representing East Greenwich, serves as the planning director for the City of Newport. Her last term expired in January 2020.
Donald Gomez and Lindsay McGovern represent communities with fewer than 25,000 residents. Gomez, representing Little Compton, is a retired Navy underwater warfare technician and was confirmed to a new term by the Senate last year. McGovern represents Narragansett and is an executive at renewable energy developer Revity Energy.
The most recent members of the council are listed on the Secretary of State’s website as representing public members of a coastal community. Stephen Izzi, a solicitor living and working in Cranston, has expertise in land use and development and was confirmed last year. He replaced Joy Montanaro, a dental hygienist, also from Cranston.
Catherine Robinson Hall, a prominent new voice at council meetings these days, is a former DEM attorney with particular expertise in coastal policy and watershed protection. Hall lives in Smithfield and was also confirmed by the Senate last year. Her appointment filled a long-vacant seat on the council.
The filling of all seats in the Council is crucial for the quorum. Last year, the CRMC had to delay decisions on a number of projects because the board struggled to reach the quorum, the minimum number of members a public body must have to be able to vote on procedures. By appointing a minimum number of council members, an absence or two from a meeting is the difference between approving projects and halting business.