Editorial: Look into appealing the Interstate agreement

Sun, 05/19/2013 - 3:56pm

One of the most prominent refrains among islanders after the R.I. Public Utilities Commission (PUC) announced that it had approved the draft agreement with Interstate Navigation — which, among other things, increased freight rates by 34 percent — was that the PUC did not take into account the prevailing attitude of town residents about the agreement.

That attitude was, of course, that the islanders were not crazy about the freight rate increase, which affects every item that is shipped over to the island on the ferry. Interstate Navigation has every right to improve its revenue, we have no issue with that; but the manner in which the agreement allows them to do that is what concerns us. The way it’s structured now will truly impact people’s wallets in a negative way.

“Another nail in the coffin,” said island resident Mary Jane Balser, who co-owns the Block Island Grocery, about the PUC decision when it was announced.

The Town Council this week began a discussion about what possible steps may be taken to address the PUC decision. As we relate this week (see Stephanie Turaj’s story here), it turns out that the town of New Shoreham and its residents have an avenue: an appeal to Superior Court in Rhode Island.

The town council was of a mixed mind on whether to take this on, which we understand, although we feel it would be prudent to at least look into the possibility. We’re aware of course that legal action takes time and money — and there is no guarantee of a favorable outcome — but it seems as though this situation is serious to warrant a review.

The purpose of the PUC hearing at town hall last month was to listen to the concerns of town residents and to take those concerns into consideration when making its final decision. The attitude about the draft agreement was decidedly unfavorable, and the increase in freight rates bore the brunt of most of the criticism. That the agreement was approved with the freight rate increases intact means, by definition, that island concerns were not taken into consideration by the PUC.

And so now islanders deserve another chance for their voices to be heard. We encourage anyone interested in addressing the PUC’s decision, including the town council, to seriously consider an appeal.

The agreement kicks in next week, and island residents will have to contend with higher prices for almost all goods and services in what is already a fragile economy.