RIFF says Fast Ferry to operate next spring

From Quonset to Block Island
Thu, 08/08/2019 - 6:15pm
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Rhode Island Fast Ferry docked its new 320-passenger, $8 million vessel at Payne’s Dock on Monday to showcase it to the public, as part of an open house promotional event. During the event, RIFF told The Times that it plans on using the vessel for its proposed Quonset Point to Block Island route in May of 2020.

“We will be in operation next spring,” said Paul Filippi, who stood on the dock watching the ferry arrive. Filippi is responsible for securing dockage at Old Harbor for the ferry service through his Bluewater, LLC.

Filippi told The Times that he is finalizing the dockage application that will be submitted to the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council. Once approved, Filippi intends to construct a fixed pier at a southwest angle near the red breakwater in Old Harbor, in close proximity to where Interstate Navigation operates the Block Island Ferry. He is co-owner of Ballard’s Wharf and T&C Holdings where the boat will land, and the service will operate. He said the dock will also serve as a marina for servicing offshore wind farms in the area.

RIFF owner, Charlie Donadio, Jr., echoed Filippi’s comments while standing aboard his new boat. “The plan is to run the ferry service starting in May of 2020.” Donadio noted that once the CRMC gives its approval regarding the dockage application the service will be operational. “We brought the boat here so that people could see that it’s real.”

Donadio docked the vessel in the same location at Payne’s Dock where he once operated another high-speed vessel named the Athena for two years from Galillee during 2001 to 2002. The Athena was sold by Donadio’s former partners to Interstate Navigation, which now operates it from Pt. Judith.

RIFF’s newest vessel, the Julia Leigh, named after Donadio’s daughter, was built by Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilders and delivered on June 26. It is a three-level, 110-foot long catamaran with a 3,750 horsepower emission compliant engine that is capable of cruising up to 35 miles-per-hour, or 30 knots.

According to Donadio, it is a “state-of-the-art” vessel, with a touchscreen control system, satellite television throughout, and business class amenities. It is also equipped with air conditioning, modern restrooms, and carpeted flooring that resembles hardwood. Donadio said passengers who currently travel to Martha’s Vineyard aboard the boat, “love it,” and don’t want it to be reassigned to Block Island.

“It’s beautiful,” said Joslin Leasca, who journeyed from Quonset to New Harbor aboard the boat. “It’s an easy trip from Quonset.”

“I think it would be a good service,” said Jack Collard, who’s been visiting Block Island for 50 years and has his boat moored on the Great Salt Pond. “It’s pretty exciting.”

One man, who did not wish to be identified, said the ferry service was “welcome” on Block Island.

A woman, who also did not want to be identified, said it was “a good publicity stunt.” She and her friends were in favor of the proposed service.

“It’s a very nice boat,” said Andrew Goodman, who along with his wife, Lisa, and two children, toured the vessel. The Goodmans, who are from Massachusetts, purchased a home on Block Island a year ago. “I would take this boat from Quonset to Block Island. We would use it to avoid the beach traffic” in South County.

“It will help people traveling to Block Island from Massachusetts,” said Lisa, whose family has been visiting the island for 40 years. “More options are good.”

“I’m all about the free-market. It was designed for competition,” said Andrew. “There shouldn’t be a monopoly.”

Donadio said the trip from Quonset to Block Island would take 50 minutes, and cost $45 to $50 for a round-trip ticket. Parking at his Quonset facility costs $10 per day all week long.

Donadio also noted that parking at his facility in Quonset would “get cars off the highway and roads” during the busy summer season, and alleviate traffic congestion in south county.

“People will like this service,” said Donadio. “My question is: why has the town been fighting it?”

“I sent out invitations to the Block Island town officials, as well as the Tourism Council and Chamber of Commerce,” he said. “Unfortunately, none of them accepted my invitation for a personal tour of our new ferry.”

RIFF has been engaged in a legal battle in Washington County Superior Court and the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers with Interstate Navigation, and the Town of New Shoreham, who oppose the service due to what Town Manager Ed Roberge calls congestion issues and public safety concerns at Old Harbor. The New Shoreham Town Council voted against the service in 2013, and has maintained that position ever since.

Donadio said he would be filing another one-year extension with the Division for meeting the dockage requirement, which is a stipulation of its Certificate of Public Necessity and Convenience license, granted on Sept. 22, 2016. 

The Times did not receive comment from New Shoreham Town Solicitor Katherine Merolla, who has been litigating the service on behalf of the town, by press time.

Town Manager Ed Roberge said, “I have no comment on other’s comments on that matter.”