The Block Island Times

Months of testimony over Champlin's expansion concludes

Decision expected in July
By Laura Kelly | Apr 07, 2013

Months of testimony on the Champlin’s Marina dispute concluded after a 30-minute hearing in front of the Coastal Management Resources Council (CRMC) in Providence on Monday.

The CMRC hearings were held to determine if there were disparities in the way the Block Island Town Council ruled on expansion applications for Champlin’s and Payne’s Dock. Champlin’s contends it received unfair treatment when the council did not approve a 4-acre expansion on Great Salt Pond in May of 2011, while Payne’s half-acre expansion plan was later approved.

Champlin’s is seeking space for an additional 140 boats and more than 29,000 feet of fixed pier. The town council’s decision was appealed to Superior Court, where Judge Kristen Rodgers ordered that hearings be held on whether the CRMC acted unfairly by approving the smaller expansion for Payne’s Dock.

Now that testimony is complete, legal briefs will be filed and the CRMC will hold a meeting, possibly in July, to issue a decision.

On Monday, testimony picked up where the Feb. 26 hearing left off, with attorney Robert Goldberg, a lawyer for Champlin’s, presenting two witnesses, Champlin’s owner Joseph Grillo Jr. and Champlin’s Dockmaster John Winson.

Attorney Goldberg asked Grillo if he was willing to accept an earlier recommendation of a CRMC subcommittee that would have allowed a 170-foot expansion of Champlin’s dock into Great Salt Pond, along with other changes at the marina. In brief testimony, Grillo said that he does support that recommendation.

But CRMC Vice Chair Paul Lemont questioned why the subcommittee recommendation was even being discussed because it was never approved by the full council. “That was rejected … and muddled by a lot of discourse,” Lemont said.

Daniel Prentiss, counsel for both the town of New Shoreham and the Committee for the Great Salt Pond, reiterated that only testimony regarding the disparate treatment of the marina applications should be considered.

Goldberg then called Winson to testify about the day-to-day operations at Champlin’s and showed him several aerial photographs of Great Salt Pond. Goldberg focused on prior testimony by Town Harbormaster Stephen Land that said a “courtesy channel” for boats docking at Champlin’s was heavily used, which Dockmaster Winson disputed on Monday.

Winson said that through his 11 years of working on the dock he had witnessed few boats use the narrow “courtesy channel” and, instead, nearly 90 percent of all boaters traverse the Great Salt Pond around the town’s mooring field and Payne’s Dock before arriving at Champlin’s. “Boats come down and around the mooring field to dock,” Winson said.

Town Mooring Field-E has been the focus of earlier hearings before the council. In prior testimony, Land and CRMC supervising civil engineer Kenneth Anderson said that expansion at Champlin’s Marina could eliminate 20 to 40 boat moorings and affect the main boat channel in the pond.

“There was testimony about boats drifting into the mooring field. Have you ever seen that happen?” Goldberg asked Winson.

“Not once,” Winson said and noted that he had never received any complaints about damage caused by boats at Champlin’s.

Goldberg asked Winson to explain differences between Champlin’s Marina and Payne’s Dock, as well as what amenities each dock offers to customers. Winson testified that Champlin’s offers more amenities, such as showers, although both docks offer fuel and electricity. One difference, he noted, was that Champlin’s has a dinghy dock and Payne’s does not.

Winson also explained that Champlin’s takes advance reservations for dock space and operates on ship-to-shore radio to coordinate the best use of dock space. During the busy summer season, Champlin’s employs 22 dockhands to meet customer needs, he said, and as dockmaster Winson said he works seven days a week in the busy season.

New Shoreham counsel Prentiss asked how familiar Winson was with boat movements on the water, if he is that busy overseeing Champlin’s operations.“Do you agree that you are really not out on the water?” Prentiss asked.

“I stay at the end of the dock and see the boats coming in,” Winson replied.

“Do you spend as much time as the harbormaster on the water?” Prentiss asked.

“No,” Winson replied.

After 11 years of debate over the expansion proposal, council members and attorneys appeared jovial when Monday’s hearing was completed after just 30 minutes.

Legal briefs by Champlin’s attorneys must be filed by May 10 and lawyers for the town were given a June 10 deadline to file briefs. Champlin’s then can file a rebuttal to the town’s brief by June 24. The CRMC will deliberate and render a decision most likely in early July, CRMC Vice Chair Lemont said.

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