Communication snafu between town and Interstate

Thu, 01/17/2019 - 6:45pm

Although there were few, if any, points of contention during the discussion between the Town Council and representatives of Interstate Navigation at their meeting on Jan. 14, there was one moment of confusion.

It was when Councilor Chris Willi asked Interstate why the town had not been given more notice about the company’s plan to build a 500-passenger fast ferry that would replace the 250-passenger Athena. Interstate had hoped to get approval from the state Division of Public Utilities and Carriers to incur $8.5 million in debt to build a $10.5 million boat.

The topic was first talked about at a Town Council meeting on Dec. 19, while the hearing before the Division was held on Dec. 27.

“Why didn’t we hear about that earlier?” Willi asked, referencing the hearing on the proposed fast ferry loan.

Interstate Navigation attorney Mike McElroy, said that he had been working with Town Solicitor Kathy Merolla, and then said: “The town was notified back in the summer. We had to file a proposal for a capital reserve account.” McElroy said that document was filed back on July 9, 2018.

Town Manager Ed Roberge appeared to be surprised by the news that the town was given notice by Interstate that it intended to build a new 500-passenger ferry.

“I’ll go back and look,” said Roberge, saying that he would review his correspondence with Interstate. “But it certainly would be a surprise to me if I had been served” notice.

The document sent to the town on July 9 was what was referred to as a Return on Equity Report that was filed before the Division. While the document does not specifically focus on the building of a new fast ferry, it does state: “Interstate has proposed that the total accumulated balance of $1,819,701 at the end of FY 2017, and any future amounts, should be reserved for capital projects in a Capital Reserve. These capital projects could include fixed asset purchases such as new vessels and/or overhauls of vessels, buildings, ramps, docks, pilings, etc.”

The document goes on to say, “Interstate identified potential capital projects which could be funded with this Capital Reserve…. [A] project is the potential construction of a new fast ferry for the Point Judith Run. The current Pt. Judith fast ferry M/V Athena run has been running at full capacity on the high demand runs during the summer. Profits from the Point Judith fast ferry operation subsidize the lifeline conventional service.”

Roberge said he followed up with Interstate via email expressing some dissatisfaction. “They thought they had done due diligence,” Roberge said to The Times. “We disagreed. We go from there.”