Town challenging Fast Ferry license

Fri, 12/29/2017 - 9:15am
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The Town of New Shoreham is trying to overturn the State of Rhode Island’s issuance of a license to Rhode Island Fast Ferry for operating a high-speed ferry service from Quonset Point to Block Island.

According to the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, an evidentiary hearing will be scheduled at its Warwick office at which the town will be questioning RIFF’s claims about whether it has viable plans for constructing dockage in Old Harbor’s inner basin. Bluewater LLC, owned by Paul Filippi, is responsible for providing dockage for the ferry service, which would operate during the tourist season only.

The Division granted RIFF a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity on Sept. 22, 2016 with the stipulation that it finds suitable dockage for the service at Old Harbor. On Sept. 18, the Division granted RIFF a one-year continuance to meet the dockage requirement. 

The Division’s procedural schedule notes that the town will have “the burden of proving that RIFF does not have a realistic expectation of constructing docking facilities in Old Harbor, irrespective of design, through its permit applications with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or the Coastal Resources Management Council.” The case has been remanded back to Division for a second time per court order by Superior Court Judge Richard Licht. 

Town officials, including the Interim Town Manager, the First Warden and the town solicitor, would not comment on the matter since it is ongoing litigation, and has been discussed only in closed session at Town Council meetings. 

RIFF owner Charlie Donadio, Jr. told The Times that, “The town is trying to overturn the Division’s decision that there is a public need for this service. They have to prove that plans for the service have been derailed. They haven’t. The docks have all been engineered, and designed, and (Bluewater) is in the permitting application process, which, unfortunately, takes time.” 

“This is the town fighting the State of Rhode Island regarding issuance of a CPCN,” added Donadio. “I’m a third party to this. If the state has determined that there is a need for this service, which it has, why is the town fighting this?”

Donadio said taxpayer dollars are being paid to the town’s attorney to contest the Division’s granting of the CPCN. “We’ve got our license,” noted Donadio. “If I had a dock tomorrow I could start running the ferry service. I’m looking forward to getting the service going. It’s going to be a great thing for the island.”

As for dockage, Filippi said, “The Division has found Bluewater’s docking plans to be viable, and that there is a public need and necessity for the new ferry service. The recent denial of yet another town filing against the Division calls into question the Town Solicitor’s (Katherine Merolla) continual litigation against a state body on behalf of an 85-year, for-profit ferry monopoly. This is not only a waste of Block Island taxpayer money and municipal resources, it is detrimental to the community to thwart competition.” 

“Additionally, there are growing concerns that discussions regarding the seemingly unlimited use of public funds on behalf of a private company is held in closed session, insulated from all public input,” said Filippi. 

Bluewater, which is going through the permitting process with the U.S.A.C.E. and the CRMC, is proposing two docks in the inner basin for the service: a fixed and floating L-shaped dock adjacent to the red stone breakwater, and a fixed pier near the bait dock.

On Dec. 13 the Division denied the town’s request of having RIFF produce its data and/or designs for its dockage proposal for operating the proposed service. The Division also denied a hearing on the matter, and remanded that portion of the case back to Superior Court.

The town filed a motion on Nov. 2 asking the Division to have RIFF produce data, proving viable dockage plans at Old Harbor’s inner basin. In filing the motion, the town was calling into question the veracity of RIFF’s claims that it has a workable plan to secure dockage at Old Harbor. In response to the town’s motion, RIFF sent a motion to the Division, dated Dec. 11, objecting to the town’s request.

In its Dec. 13 order, the Division stated that: “The Town’s motion to compel responses to its Data Requests is hereby denied.” The Division also denied the Town’s request for a hearing on the matter.

The Division’s findings contend that: “In this docket, the Town shall be required to prove to the Division that RIFF will not be able to operate its proposed ferry service from a Bluewater docking facility in Old Harbor. Evidence of this prospect must be obvious and compelling, not ambiguous and speculative.”

The order notes that: “The Division will not consider matters of design, environmental impacts or the terms in construction contracts. Those topics are for other regulatory bodies to consider and antithetical to the regulatory interests of the Division in this narrowly focused CPCN paradigm.”

In other related news, Donadio said that RIFF is in the process of constructing a terminal on the company’s Quonset Point property. 

“We’re in the final stages of selecting a contractor for construction that will begin in the spring,” he said.