Town’s effort to strip fast ferry license denied

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 9:45am

The Town of New Shoreham has been thwarted in its latest efforts to strip the license issued by the State of Rhode Island to Rhode Island Fast Ferry for operating a seasonal high-speed passenger ferry service from Quonset Point to Block Island.

On Jan. 25, the state’s Division of Public Utilities and Carriers denied the Town and Interstate Navigation Company’s joint motion requesting that the Division vacate the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity license that it originally issued to RIFF on Sept. 22, 2016. Interstate Navigation Company is the Point Judith-based owner and operator of the Block Island Ferry.

The Division’s order, written by Hearing Officer John Spirito, states, “That the Town’s and Interstate’s January 2, 2018 motion to vacate Order No. 22877, is hereby denied.” In its decision, the Division asserts that it has “issued fifteen orders in the instant docket” quoting the issuance date of each order, beginning in 2013.

In its findings, the Division noted that it “finds insufficient justification to grant (the Town and Interstate Navigation) such an extreme prayer at this time,” and that those parties “have proffered inadequate support to take up this matter again at this time.” The Division noted that “the arguments presented by the Town and Interstate can be revisited in the event that RIFF seeks an additional continuance after Sept. 22, 2018.”

The Division granted RIFF a one-year continuance on Sept. 18, 2017, as the ferry company seeks permitting approvals for dockage for the ferry service. When the Division initially granted RIFF the CPCN license in 2016 it did so with stipulations, including securing suitable dockage at Old Harbor’s inner basin, leasing or identifying a vessel for the service, meeting all Coast Guard requirements, having appropriate insurance, and passing an inspection by the Division to ensure regulatory compliance.

Bluewater LLC, owned by Paul Filippi, is responsible for providing dockage for the service at Old Harbor. Filippi said he is going through the permitting process with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council for two dockage proposals at the inner basin: one a floating dock adjacent to the red breakwater, and the other a fixed pier near the bait dock.

The Division will be holding an evidentiary hearing on March 6, 2018 at 10 a.m. in Hearing Room B at the Division’s Warwick office. During the hearing the Town has the burden of proving that RIFF (through Bluewater) does not have a realistic expectation of constructing Bluewater’s planned docking facilities in Old Harbor, irrespective of design, through its permit applications with the USACE or CRMC.

RIFF owner Charlie Donadio, Jr. told The Times that the Division’s Order is “another legal loss for the town and Interstate Navigation. The endless legal motions that the town’s attorney continues to file against the Division is not only a waste of the town’s resources, but it is absolutely a waste of taxpayer money. The residents of Block Island should be asking how much has been spent on legal fees over the course of the last four-and-a-half years trying to prevent this ferry service from starting up.”

Donadio added: “I would like to work with the Town and local businesses to make this new ferry the best service they have ever experienced, since I introduced the high-speed ferry Athena in 1998. I would welcome the opportunity to sit down with the Town Council to work out any logistical concerns they have before we start operating so that we can have an amicable relationship going forward.”

In response to the Division’s ruling, First Warden Ken Lacoste told The Times that, “In 2013 Mr. Donadio made presentations to the Town Council about his proposed ferry service to Old Harbor. He said that he would not fight the Town, and that he would not force a ferry service on the Island. Mr. Donadio misrepresented his intentions to the Town Council. That Council and every Town Council since 2013 has opposed this ferry, yet Mr. Donadio persists.”

“At the hearing on the application for a certificate to operate the ferry service, Town Manager Nancy Dodge, First Warden Ken Lacoste, Second Warden Norris Pike, and Harbormaster Steve Land all testified against the ferry,” said Lacoste. “In addition, the town’s post-hearing memorandum points out that in court testimony it was established that RIFF’s operation would have deleterious effects on Interstate’s lifeline ferry service, and that Interstate’s projected losses would necessitate a raise in rates and/or a reduction in lifeline services provided by Interstate.”

Lacoste noted that, “The certificate that was issued by the Division was conditional only, and required that RIFF satisfy certain requirements by September 22, 2017. To get an extension of that date, RIFF represented that it was working diligently to satisfy the requirements, but discovery the town did after the Superior Court Judge sent the case back to the Division showed just the opposite.”

“In November of 2015, RIFF assured the Division in writing that the permitting process would be complete in 12 to 18 months, by April 2017,” said Lacoste. “It is now well over two years since that letter was written, yet no applications have been filed with the Army Corps Regulatory Division, the CRMC, RIDEM, or the town. The hearing officer stated that he would not take up the matter at this time. However, he also ruled that the town and Interstate could revisit their arguments if RIFF seeks another continuance.”

Lacoste said the next step for the town ”is for RIFF to go through the permitting process. It has failed to do so for two years and counting.”