Town cites safety concerns in opposing fast ferry

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 9:30am
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New Shoreham officials are citing a “significant public safety threat” as one of a number of reasons for opposing Rhode Island Fast Ferry’s proposed seasonal high speed passenger ferry service from Quonset Point to Block Island. The Town Council has opposed the service since RIFF owner Charlie Donadio, Jr. presented the idea to the town in 2013.

New Shoreham and Interstate Navigation Company, owners of the Block Island Ferry, have been waging a joint legal battle against the ferry service since RIFF was granted a conditional license to operate by the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers on Sept. 22, 2016. As a condition of being granted the license, RIFF was required to secure dockage for the service at Block Island’s Old Harbor within one year’s time. RIFF was granted a one-year continuance to find dockage on Sept. 18, 2017.   

“The Town Council continues to express serious safety concerns with current conditions and capacity of its Old Harbor facilities and village infrastructure,” Town Manager Edward Roberge noted in a statement sent to The Block Island Times. “This case is a matter of public safety and those concerns have yet to be substantially addressed in any of the discussions, correspondence, or press to date on this matter.” Council members told The Times that Roberge was speaking on behalf of the town and the Town Council regarding the RIFF case. 

In his statement, Roberge gave the town’s other reasons for opposing the service, including “dockage capacity and vessel circulation in Old Harbor, limited public infrastructure at the ferry landing area,” and the “impact to the existing traditional and seasonal fast ferry services. The Town Council argues that it is simply not safe to put that many people in such a small space during the peak travel season on Block Island. The Town Council fails to see the public need for the proposed additional service.”

“In its issuance of the conditional CPCN license, the Division’s Order noted the town’s objections to the public necessity for the RIFF service,” wrote Roberge. “The Division commented that the proper question in this docket is whether public need and convenience demands a competitive high-speed service to Block Island from Quonset. These points made in the Division’s Order are exactly why the Town Council continues to oppose this project. Inasmuch as RIFF contends that its vessels, terminal surroundings, and services planned for use will provide its riders with a first-class travel experience, the reality of limited landing space and insufficient public infrastructure to support access for passengers will quickly diminish that expectation.”

“The Town Council argues that if travel distance is critical in determining the adequacy of public need and necessity for the service, one must equally consider the adequacy of the total trip, in this case conditions at Block Island’s ferry landing end,” noted Roberge. “I venture to say that most members of the Block Island community can readily recognize the constraints that are experienced on island every summer; and this proposal will clearly exacerbate those conditions.”

“The concerns of the Town Council have been outlined in great detail regarding the RIFF proposal,” stated Roberge. “I am not aware of any recent public support expressed for the RIFF proposal, nor concerns expressed against the Council’s continued actions in opposition to this proposal by the greater Block Island community.”