PROVIDENCE — After a delay that sparked concerns among environmental advocates, the state coastal regulatory agency picked the No. 2 official it wanted all along.
The Coastal Resources Management Council, a small but influential agency that has a hand in everything from oysters to wind power to shoreline access, has elevated longtime agency veteran Laura Miguel to be the deputy director there, a spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday.
“Laura is a very qualified member of staff who we’re very pleased to have as deputy director,” CRMC Executive Director Jeffrey Willis said in a brief interview during a break from an unrelated CRMC meeting on Tuesday.
Miguel has been at CRMC since 1992, first as an environmental biologist, then enforcement officer and then enforcement supervisor. In 2017, she received the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Justice Award.
Miguel had been acting as deputy director at the independent regulatory agency since predecessor Jim Boyd retired. The CRMC had offered the job to Miguel permanently in August, and she accepted, but other parts of Governor Dan McKee’s administration stepped in to stop it, halting not just Miguel’s rise, but also the pay increase Miguel was receiving to do the job on an acting basis and all hiring at the agency. When Willis raised concerns about Miguel’s pay in October, he was directed to the governor’s office. The state later said the administration was reviewing the role of the executive director in appointing the deputy director.
Asked if he was concerned about how the events leading up to Miguel’s new role transpired, Willis said: “No. It’s a process. We had to go through a process and we went through that process.”
Emails obtained by The Boston Globe showed that some within the agency raised concerns about the effect of the delay on the deputy director and other positions at an agency that critics say is historically underfunded and understaffed. Some also worried, the records showed, that Miguel was being stopped from rising to the No. 2 spot in the professional staff for political reasons.
Now, the CRMC is getting the deputy director that Willis and others in the agency wanted since Boyd retired. Miguel’s pay issue was also being resolved, the Department of Administration said in response to previous Globe inquiries. Other hires had also been halted because of a “misunderstanding” about the scope of the review of Miguel’s role, the Department of Administration said previously, but that had also been resolved.
Environmental advocates like Save The Bay said reforming the CRMC is one of the top priorities in 2023. The agency is run by a roughly 30-person professional staff, but high-level decisions get made by a politically appointed council. Those appointees sometimes reject the advice of the staff, provoking criticism and litigation.
Save The Bay said it will pursue making the council an advisory body, rather than a decision-making one.
The agency regulates the leading edge of what many consider huge economic opportunities for Rhode Island, like offshore wind power. It also makes decisions on things like building along the shore, designating coastal pathways as public, and oyster farm lease applications.