Fast ferry case takes a step back

Fri, 04/14/2017 - 9:30am

The legal battle to bring a new fast ferry service from Quonset to Block Island has been remanded back to the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers by a state Superior Court judge. Rhode Island Fast Ferry’s proposed service is being opposed by both the Town of New Shoreham and Interstate Navigation.

Kara Picozzi, Deputy Director of Public Relations for the court, told The Block Island Times that Superior Court Judge Richard Licht “heard a motion from the town and Interstate Navigation to remand the case back to the (Division) for more evidence. The (Division) and (RIFF) both objected to having the case sent back. Clearly, the judge thought there should be additional findings of fact.” 

On Dec. 10, 2015, the Division granted RIFF a Cerificate of Public Convenience and Necessity to operate the fast ferry service with the stipulation that it find suitable dockage at Old Harbor. RIFF owner Charlie Donadio, Jr. is partnered with Paul Filippi and his company, Bluewater, LLC, which is responsible for providing dockage.

Filippi told The Times that Bluewater is at step four of the Army Corps of Engineers’ eight step permitting process for its proposed docking facilities at Old Harbor.

Bluewater’s application to the Army Corps proposes two locations for the ferry service’s dock: near the east dock or beside the red breakwater. The new information submitted by Bluewater calls for construction of a pedestrian walkway with pavers that lead around the east dock; a dock that the Town of New Shoreham leases at no cost, and maintains, as a non-federal sponsor from the federal government.

The town, through Town Solicitor Katherine Merolla, is arguing that the new walkway proposal materially changes RIFF’s application, and needs to be revisited by the Division. 

RIFF attorney Alan Shoer disagreed, saying it does not “materially change” the application, and that Bluewater had previously presented the dockage proposal, and locations, to the Division prior to RIFF being granted the Certificate of Convenience. Shoer said Bluewater’s new proposal involves “sidewalk access from the dock to land” around the east dock to the walkway in front of Ballard’s, that was introduced as part of satisfying the dockage requirement of the CPCN. 

Filippi explained that the new proposal was submitted to address concerns of the Harbors Department regarding potential congestion at Old Harbor’s east dock. Filippi said the upland access point presented by Bluewater circumvents the east dock and would provide a pedestrian walkway with pavers that would remedy congestion concerns in the area. 

Shoer said that since Judge Licht did not want to rule on the new walkway proposal, he remanded the case back to the Division to see if the Division wanted to revisit the CPCN. Shoer noted that if the Division sees no material change to the application then the case will go back to Licht for a ruling.

“The Army Corps’ process is moving forward with a plan to land a high speed ferry at Old Harbor,” said Shoer. “I don’t believe that the town (of New Shoreham) has prevented the Army Corps process from moving forward.”

Donadio said, “The state has already determined that there is a public benefit to this ferry service. RIFF looks forward to bringing a business class ferry service that’s going to enhance business and tourism on Block Island. The town of Oak Bluffs embraced this type of service, and we are now in our 16th year of service.”

Michael McElroy, an attorney for Interstate Navigation, said, “Interstate is pleased that the Superior Court agreed with Interstate and the town that the matter should be remanded back to the Division in light of RIFF’s revised docking proposal. We will present our thoughts and arguments regarding the revised proposal to the Division at the appropriate time.”

Thomas Kogut, spokesman for the Division, said no date has yet been set by the Division to hear the case. “Once the parties file with us there will likely be a procedural conference to set up a procedural schedule.”