Fast Ferry granted continuance

With greater scrutiny on finding dockage
Thu, 09/27/2018 - 6:00pm
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The Division of Public Utilities and Carriers has granted Rhode Island Fast Ferry with another one-year continuance to meet the conditions of its license for operating a proposed seasonal high-speed service from Quonset Point to Block Island. However, the Division noted in its order that it is putting RIFF and Bluewater, LLC on notice regarding “procrastinative” efforts to secure dockage for the ferry service. 

The Division granted RIFF its Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity license on Sept. 22, 2016, with one of the conditions being that it find “suitable dockage” at Old Harbor for the service. RIFF is owned by Charlie Donadio, Jr., while Paul Filippi and his Bluewater, LLC are responsible for supplying dockage for the service.

The town, along with Interstate Navigation, owner of the Block Island Ferry, have been waging a legal battle with RIFF in Washington County Superior Court for the past few years. New Shoreham is opposing the proposed service due to what it says is insufficient landing space, public safety, and infrastructure concerns at Old Harbor.

RIFF submitted the request for the continuance with the Division on Aug. 7, noting that it needed more time to satisfy the dockage requirement of its license. The Town of New Shoreham filed an objection with the Division on Aug. 28 objecting to RIFF’s request. 

In the Division’s order, issued on Wednesday, Hearing Officer John Spirito, Jr. noted that while RIFF has “identified a docking plan,” it “has had little, if any, control over the advancement of the necessary permitting of Bluewater’s planned docking facilities at Old Harbor. Although Mr. Filippi has endeavored to explain the delays associated with Bluewater’s required filings and proceedings before the Coastal Resources Management Council and Army Corps of Engineers, it is true that Mr. Filippi’s statements concerning anticipated timetables have proven to be unreliable. On this point the Division must agree with the Town and Interstate.”

Spirito stated in the order that the delays regarding the dockage process should not be attributed to RIFF, and that Bluewater’s “procrastinative performance, is clearly beyond RIFF’s control. The Division’s patience on Bluewater’s efforts to construct a docking facility in Old Harbor, is not without limits. RIFF and Bluewater are accordingly put on notice that they will be held to a higher burden of proof in support of any further continuance requests.”

In response, Donadio told The Block Island Times that, “The formal CRMC dock application is anticipated to be submitted in the next few weeks. We are currently finalizing the design and layout of the proposed dockage, which will hopefully satisfy any potential issues that have arisen. I am hopeful that we can have this new Quonset fast ferry service up and running for the 2019 season.”

New Shoreham Town Manager Ed Roberge said, “Although the town has no specific response to the Division’s actions to grant the additional one-year continuance, the Town Council maintains its position of concern with this project. It should be noted that although the Division considered the request for an additional continuance, the Division indicated that its patience on the efforts to permit and construct a docking facility in Old Harbor is not without limits. Bluewater and RIFF have been put on notice that they will be held to a higher burden of proof in support of any further continuance requests related to this project.”

AG weighs in on the issue

On Sept. 21, the State of Rhode Island’s Attorney General’s office issued a letter stating its support for RIFF’s proposed service from Quonset Point to Block Island. In the letter, Christy Hetherington, Special Assistant Attorney General, noted that the Attorney General’s office “supports implementation of this service as quickly as possible in the interest of satisfying this public need. The Division has acknowledged a ridership need for a seasonal fast ferry service between Quonset Point and Old Harbor, Block Island.”

“The Advocacy Section does not oppose RIFF’s request for a continuance” — to Sept. 22, 2019. “The Advocacy Section considers the incomplete appellate process to be “just cause” to seek additional time to satisfy the certification requirements conditioned in the Division’s original granting order.”

The letter states that: “The administrative and court records in this years-long contested docket evidences clearly that the appellate avenues with which the parties are afforded are ongoing. Moreover, because RIFF seeks a time-limited, one-year extension, the matter cannot linger in perpetuity; instead, the Division may revisit the matter in a relatively litigation-short period of time.”

Thomas Kogut, the Division’s Chief of Information, told The Times: “In Division dockets, the Division is represented by the advocacy section, usually in the person of one of the Attorney General’s Office lawyers who work for us. The letter represents that the Division has no objection. The decision rests with the Hearing Officer.”

Donadio said, “The Attorney General’s letter of support clearly indicates they want to see this new ferry service started up as soon as possible. This new Quonset fast ferry will be a beneficial, passenger-only service to Block Island, and help promote and expand the shoulder seasons for the local businesses on the island. I would welcome working with the New Shoreham Town Council to mitigate all their safety concerns, as well as provide a landing/port fee for all of our passengers.”

Roberge said, “I read the AG’s office position statement regarding RIFF’s request for a continuance of the time period to complete the requisite conditions precedent to the issuance of the CPCN order and have no further comment to add.”

The AG’s Advocacy Section letter can be found here: https://bit.ly/2OSwg6x. The filings in the case are online at the RIPUC site: http://www.ripuc.org/.