R.I. Fast Ferry wins another round in court

Per decision by Superior Court Judge
Thu, 03/07/2019 - 5:45pm

Rhode Island Fast Ferry has won another round in its ongoing legal battle with the town of New Shoreham. RIFF would like to start a new seasonal fast ferry service from Quonset Point to Block Island, but the town is against the plan.

According to the court transcript from a Feb. 21 hearing, Superior Court Judge Maureen B. Keough denied the third attempt to remand the case back to the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers. Interstate Navigation, the company that owns the Block Island Ferry, filed the motion requesting the remand. Interstate and the Town of New Shoreham have been litigating RIFF’s Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity license since the Division granted it to the ferry company on Sept. 22, 2016.

Superior Court Judge Richard Licht, the former presiding judge, had remanded the case back to the Division for a second time on May 2, 2017. In its July 16, 2018 order, the Division stated its reasons for returning the case back to the Superior Court, with hearing officer John Spirito stating that there was “insufficient cause to revisit the issues discussed and addressed in the Division’s previous decision denying the town’s motion for summary disposition.”

During the Feb. 21 hearing, Judge Keough said her denial of the remand was based on review of “every exhibit” submitted in the case, and “divining what Judge Licht meant” in the transcripts that she read. She also prefaced her decision, stating, “You don’t have to like my decision. By the way, I’m the last person to be offended if it goes upstairs and someone tells me I’m wrong. But, it is my decision.”

After rendering her decision, Keough said, “Now, we move on to a briefing schedule.” She noted that she wanted to “keep it on a short leash,” since the case “has been going on for a while. I’m not sure whether or not Interstate is going to, or if you even have the ability I suppose, to challenge the court’s ruling today at this juncture.”

Leah Donaldson, the attorney representing Interstate at the hearing, said, “I would need to go back and speak with my client on it.” (Donaldson did not reply to The Times regarding the matter by press time.)

As for the Division’s testimony at the hearing, Steven Surdut, legal counsel for the Division, said, “We would just assert that the hearings were conducted appropriately and in compliance with all regulations and all court orders, and would reaffirm our position in support of Rhode Island Fast Ferry.”

James Hall, an attorney for RIFF, who attended the hearing, told The Times that, “As expressly noted by the court, Interstate’s most recent motion for remand, with which the town joined during hearing, was entirely unsupported by the record. Like similar unsuccessful motions of both the town and Interstate, the most recent motion for remand was a transparent attempt to delay and was properly denied. RIFF is confident that the Superior Court will uphold the Division’s final order and is looking forward to the briefing schedule to be issued by the court within the coming days. RIFF also looks forward to participating in the Division’s related investigative docket; whereby the Division will determine if Interstate and/or those working in concert with Interstate engaged in anticompetitive behaviors.”

For the past few years, the town and Interstate have waged a legal battle to block RIFF’s proposed service. The attorneys for Interstate and the town have argued that RIFF does not have the capacity to secure dockage for the service at Old Harbor, which is noted as a requirement of its CPCN license. The Division granted RIFF its second one-year extension on Sept. 26, 2018 to satisfy the dockage requirement.

Town officials say they oppose RIFF’s proposed service due to public safety issues, insufficient landing space, and infrastructure concerns at Old Harbor, while Interstate feels it would cut into its revenue stream during the summer season. 

RIFF owner Charlie Donadio, Jr. said the final hearing regarding the case should be some time this spring. Paul Filippi, and his Bluewater, LLC are providing the dockage for the proposed ferry service.

The attorneys in the case will return to Superior Court on Thursday, March 14 for a briefing schedule.

A briefing schedule sets the due date for when attorneys submit reply briefs containing a summary of evidence and legal points for their arguments.