By law, the Coastal Resources Management Council should have two hearing officers to oversee contested cases. But the agency has gone without a full-time hearing officer for more than 10 years.
The state’s largest environmental advocacy group, Save The Bay, has called on Gov. Gina Raimondo to appoint at least one full-time hearing officer to the CRMC.
But CRMC executive director Grover Fugate said the state cannot afford it, and that the agency doesn’t need one. The council’s vice chairman has handled grievances and appeals as the acting hearing officer since 2012.
“In the absence of any real need or evidence that the council hasn’t been fulfilling this role, I think that would be a bad budgetary move on the state’s part,” said Fugate.
Fugate said the law allows the council to act as a hearing officer.
But Save the Bay’s Jonathan Stone said that could lead to questions about conflict of interest.
“It’s a very important issue of perception that if you are appearing before the agency, you want to be confident that the hearing officer who is acting in essence as a judge is fair and impartial and expert in that role," said Stone.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration evaluated the CRMC in 2010 and required a hearing officer.
The governor was not available for comment.
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