Fast Ferry requests another continuance

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 9:15am
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Rhode Island Fast Ferry filed for its second continuance on Tuesday, requesting that the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers extend its deadline for another year, to Sept. 22, 2019, so the ferry company can satisfy conditions of its Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity license. One of the conditions requires securing dockage at Old Harbor’s inner basin, as RIFF is seeking to operate a seasonal high-speed ferry service from Quonset Point to Block Island. 

The Town of New Shoreham is opposing the service because it believes that adding another ferry service at Old Harbor would create safety concerns. 

Town Solicitor Katherine Merolla said, “The town and Interstate Navigation are preparing a written objection to the motion which will be filed with the Division within the next 10 days. That objection will outline in detail the bases for the objection.”

The Division granted a CPCN license to RIFF on Sept. 22, 2016 with the stipulation that the ferry company satisfies requirements for the service within one year’s time. They include acquiring a vessel for the service; satisfying all Coast Guard requirements and applicable municipal permitting requirements; possessing liability insurance; and passage of a Division inspection ensuring regulatory compliance.

RIFF owner Charlie Donadio, Jr. told The Block Island Times that his company “can satisfy all the CPCN listed conditions with the exception of the dock location” at Old Harbor. Paul Filippi, through his Bluewater, LLC, is responsible for securing dockage at Old Harbor. Filippi said, “Bluewater’s attorney and consultants have been meeting and communicating with the Coastal Resources Management Council and the Army Corp of Engineers daily as we get closer to submitting applications incorporating final design changes.”

In its Aug. 7 motion, RIFF claims the Town of New Shoreham, along with Interstate Navigation, the company that operates the Block Island Ferry, have filed court motions, and “worked tirelessly to delay” the process of satisfying conditions, like dockage. 

The case has gone back and forth from the Division to Superior Court for the past two years, with the town and Interstate Navigation issuing appeals contesting RIFF’s license.

RIFF states in its motion that the two “petitioners have successfully delayed the process, and have yet to file their appellate briefs; the original appeals were filed in the Superior Court in October of 2016. As this matter needs to go back before the Superior Court for the filing of appellate briefs, RIFF respectfully requests that the Division extend the deadline set in its September 18, 2017 Order by one year — to September 22, 2019.”

In its order, dated Sept. 18, 2017, when the Division granted RIFF a one-year continuance, to Sept. 22, 2018, the Division noted that the ferry company “may request additional continuances for just cause.”

“Rhode Island Fast Ferry’s extension request is necessary given the complexity of developing a new docking facility in Old Harbor. The formal dock applications need to work through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as the CRMC,” said Donadio. 

“The Providence to Newport ferry service received a CPCN License in one day and was operational within 30 days with the support of the City of Providence,” said Donadio. “In this case the Town of New Shoreham has chosen to look past all the economic and environmental benefits of this new Quonset ferry. At the next Town Council meeting residents should ask why — as this season brought another new fast ferry service from Orient Point to Old Harbor. That service is operated by the sister company of Interstate Navigation. If Rhode Island Fast Ferry had the initial support from the town we would be in our third year of operation, providing an incredible new and convenient fast ferry service from Quonset Point.” 

Merolla filed a “complaint for judicial review” in Superior Court on Wednesday, Aug. 8, regarding the Division’s decision in granting RIFF with its CPCN license. The complaint cites the dockage issue, and that “the Town and its residents will suffer severe economic harm because Interstate will be forced to increase rates and/or reduce service to make up for the loss of revenue resulting from the diversion of Interstate’s customers to Quonset Point.”

The Town Council has opposed the service since 2013, noting that it would create “a significant public safety threat” at Old Harbor. The town contends there is limited landing space, and insufficient public infrastructure to support access for an increase in passenger traffic.