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NOAA applauds CRMC in 312 evaluation
March 19, 2020, WAKEFIELD – The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) received an overwhelmingly positive review from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in its recently released evaluation of Rhode Island’s coastal program.
“This evaluation concludes that the State of Rhode Island is successfully implementing and enforcing its federally approved coastal management program, adhering to the terms of the federal financial assistance awards, and addressing coastal management needs…,” the report released by NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management states.
The CRMC and its program were last evaluated by NOAA in 2010, and in addition to a lengthy list of accomplishments, three recommended actions were detailed in that report, all of which were immediately instituted. This most recent evaluation examines the time period from March 2010 to June 2019, and the target areas of program administration, ocean planning, and coastal hazards and climate resilience. Among another lengthy list of accomplishments, NOAA has listed just one necessary action, which the CRMC must apply before the next program evaluation: developing and implementing a new permit database.
NOAA applauded the CRMC in implementing the necessary actions from the previous evaluation: improved implementation and successfully addressing concerns regarding the Council’s ability to hold meetings with a quorum (there is a new CRMC chair, and the General Assembly changed the CRMC’s enabling legislation for 20 members and a quorum of six  instead of 10 is now required); separating the functions of the CRMC administrative hearing officer from that of the CRMC legal counsel; and providing CRMC staff with daily access to legal counsel (the CRMC has two attorneys advising Council members and staff on daily concerns and applications). NOAA also recommended that the CRMC continue to plan and prepare for the upcoming departure of some of its senior staff, which will be taking place in the next one to five years. The report also recommends the CRMC staff work with the Council to develop “job aids” for Council members, in addition to existing regular educational sessions at the beginning of its meetings. Enforcement and fine powers have long been a constraint for the CRMC staff – there are two enforcement officers for the entire state and CRMC’s fines (set by statute) have not increased in more than 20 years – and NOAA recommended the state pursue increasing maximum fines, and increase staffing in enforcement.
The CRMC was recognized for its standing as a national leader in ocean planning and its efforts in developing and implementing the Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan (Ocean SAMP), which provided a roadmap for the permitting and construction of the nation’s first offshore wind farm. The Ocean SAMP was then used as a model in the development of an ocean plan for the Northeast region. As part of this effort, NOAA recommends that the CRMC continue to revise the SAMP document to improve clarity and process based on lessons learned. Last October, the Council approved a suite of revisions to the document to provide that clarification - http://www.crmc.ri.gov/regulations_proposed/2019_0612_650-RICR-20-05-11.pdf. NOAA also recommended that the CRMC continue efforts to ensure the Rhode Island fishing community has an active role in new regional wind energy efforts like the Regional Offshore Science Alliance (ROSA), and the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA).
In addition to making necessary changes within, and leading the nation in large planning efforts, NOAA also recognized the CRMC for its “innovative” R.I. Shoreline Change (Beach) SAMP, and STORMTOOLS maps for providing state and local governments, businesses, and the public with information on coastal hazard risks. It also applauded the CRMC for its work over the last 17 years managing the state’s Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration Trust Fund (CEHRTF). Since 2010, the CRMC has awarded more than $1.8 million in funds for projects, resulting in more than 2,200 acres of restored coastal habitat, including salt marsh, beaches, dunes, shellfish beds, and riverine systems.
“This recent evaluation from NOAA showcases the breadth and depth of the CRMC and its ability to plan for global-scale problems like climate change and sea level rise, work at both local and national levels with its Ocean SAMP and wind farm efforts, and affect positive change in Rhode Island and beyond,” said CRMC Chair Jennifer Cervenka. “It is a testament to the legacy of Executive Director Grover Fugate, who will soon be retiring after 34 years with the CRMC. I am proud to serve on the Council as its chair, and look forward to continuing the CRMC traditions of efficiency and transparency that Grover started.”
Section 312 of the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) required NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management (OCM) to conduct periodic evaluations of the performance of states and territories with federally-approved coastal management programs, identified in section 16 U.S.C. § 1452(2)(A) through (K) of the Coastal Zone Management Act. The full report is online at www.crmc.ri.gov.
“The Rhode Island Coastal Program has successfully worked with partners to advance knowledge on the state of coastal habitats and how they are changing from sea level rise, including developing monitoring and assessment protocols for salt marshes,” the report states. “The coastal program has also leveraged funding for and led multi-partner innovative habitat restoration projects to help coastal habitats and the surrounding communities be more resilient as sea levels rise.”