In a letter to Gov. Dan McKee Wednesday, Jennifer Cervenka did not give a reason for stepping down from her position as chair of the Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Management Council.  

Cervenka wrote that she’s proud of CRMC’s work during her four-year tenure, pointing to “strong programs and dedicated staff.” And she cited a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that praised CRMC as a national leader in ocean planning. 

“We consider [her resignation] to be a big loss for the council,” said Topher Hamblett, policy director for Save The Bay.

As a environmental and land use attorney, he said, “she had a great depth and breadth of knowledge on the issues that were before the council. So we are urging the governor to nominate someone who has that kind of experience, because it's not there otherwise on the council.”

In the last year, the council has come under fire from residents and the R.I. Attorney General for two decisions to expand marinas in Jamestown and New Shoreham.

Save The Bay has advocated for changes to the CRMC for over 30 years. And Hamblett sees a couple problems with the way the council currently operates. One is that CRMC has no full time legal counsel. Contracting with private law firms, he said, “invites conflicts of interest.”

The second is that nine of the council’s 10 members are political appointees, none of whom are required to have expertise in environmental or planning-related fields. 

“And to have a politically appointed body, not required to have expertise, making major decisions does not serve Rhode Island's coastal environment or the state well,” Hamblett said. 

Save The Bay will have a seat on a legislative commission approved by the Rhode Island House of Representatives this year to consider reorganizing the CRMC. And a Senate commission approved in 2018 may also convene in the next year. 

“The work that the CRMC does is very important in our state. They are the lead agency that’s charged with offshore wind projects, development, marinas, aquaculture. Some of these things didn’t even exist” when the CRMC was created 50 years ago, commented Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Jamestown), who proposed the House commission.  

She describes the commission as an opportunity to “modernize” the CRMC for the 21st century.