Chronic Criticism of Rhode Island Coastal Board as Calls for Reform Intensify

The Coastal Resources Management Council was created in 1971 to manage coastal development along Rhode Island’s 420 miles of shoreline, including the beachfront town of Westerly. A citizen board lacking coastal knowledge and appointed by politicians has often ignored years of experience to overrule staff on shoreline development projects.

Since its founding, Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Management Council has been criticized by both environmentalists and developers. The state agency has several charges, but much of the animosity stems from how the agency issues permits for coastal development.

Concerns about rampant growth crowding the shores of the Ocean State, and near approval of large, industrial projects such as an oil refinery in Tiverton led to the founding of the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) in 1971. It was created as a kind of outsized zoning board to approve or deny proposals for docks, wharves, homes, hotels, and shoreline hardening along Rhode Island’s 420 miles of coastline. The agency processes on average some 1,100 applications annually. Its area of jurisdiction encompasses 200 feet inland to 3 miles offshore.

An oversight board of citizen appointees is common among cities and towns but less so for state agencies, which typically rely on in-house professionals to adjudicate permits. For CRMC, this model has been the source of ongoing discord.

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