Town, Interstate appealing RIFF continuance

For Quonset to Block Island ferry service
Thu, 11/01/2018 - 6:45pm

The Town of New Shoreham and Interstate Navigation’s legal battle to stop  Rhode Island Fast Ferry from operating a seasonal high-speed ferry service from Quonset Point to Block Island continues with more appeals.

On Wednesday, Oct. 24, the town and Interstate filed complaints in Superior Court, challenging the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carrier’s granting a one-year extension of RIFF’s Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity license, which is needed to operate the service. RIFF was granted its license on Sept. 22, 2016 with the condition that it find suitable dockage at Old Harbor. Since RIFF has yet to secure dockage, the Division agreed to grant a second continuance on Sept. 26, 2018 while calling for greater scrutiny over the ferry company’s dockage plans. 

The town opposes the service due to public safety issues, insufficient landing space, and infrastructure concerns at Old Harbor. Interstate Navigation, the company that owns and operates the Block Island Ferry, feels the service would cut into its revenue stream during the summer season. The State of Rhode Island believes there is a public need for the fast ferry service, with the Division, and Rhode Island Attorney General’s office having stated support for the proposed service. 

The town and Interstate have been challenging RIFF’s license to operate the service since 2016. The most recent complaint filed by the town and Interstate in Superior Court seeks a judicial review of the Division’s decision to extend RIFF’s license for another year, noting that:

“Public convenience and necessity does not require the issuance of the CPCN being sought by RIFF; the traditional and fast ferry services being provided by Interstate are adequate and fully meet the public need for ferry services to Block Island; hardship and inconvenience to the Town and its residents would result if the CPCN was granted; and Interstate, the Town and its residents would suffer economic harm because allowing RIFF to cream skim Interstate’s summer passengers would result in loss of revenue and Interstate would be forced to increase rates and/or reduce service to make up for the loss of revenue resulting from the diversion of Interstate’s summer ferry passengers from Point Judith to Quonset Point. The Town also argued that RIFF is not fit, willing, or able to provide the proposed service because it cannot legally obtain a docking facility in Old Harbor.”

The town and Interstate are requesting that the Superior Court reverse the Division’s Sept. 26, 2018 decision and order, “granting a stay of the CPCN conditions compliance date; deny RIFF’s request for an additional one-year continuance to satisfy the CPCN conditions;” and grant “additional and further relief.”

In response to the appeals, RIFF owner Charlie Donadio, Jr., told The Times that, “Interstate and the town have, yet again, done nothing more than appeal the Division’s most recent decision confirming the need for RIFF’s services and, extending the period of time within which RIFF may comply with the terms of its license to operate a fast ferry from Quonset to Old Harbor. The most recent appeals are nothing more than unnecessary restatements of the arguments the town and Interstate have previously asserted unsuccessfully.”

“The town and Interstate have yet to be substantively successful in this matter,” noted Donadio. “These most recent appeals are just more in a long line of similar fruitless appeals meant only to delay. This latest filing just adds to the continuous legal fees the town has incurred over the past five-and-a-half years trying to prevent this new ferry service from starting up to protect Interstate’s monopoly. As RIFF has done in the past, we will respond accordingly.”

First Warden Ken Lacoste said, “It is not the town’s filing that adds to the continuous legal fees, it is Mr. Donadio’s futile attempts to pursue his Fast Ferry incursion on the town that is the source of the legal expenses. The town manager recently outlined the town’s opposition of this proposal to The Block Island Times.”

“On both August 5 and September 18, 2013, Mr. Donadio made representations to the Town Council regarding his proposed ferry service,” said Lacoste. “He said that he was seeking the town’s support, that he was not planning on fighting the town, and that he did not want to get involved in a battle with the town. He told us he would not force a ferry service on us and that he would not attempt it if the council opposed it. After careful consideration the council, and every Town Council since 2013, has opposed this ferry for a number of reasons and we have instructed our solicitor to take the legal steps necessary to prevent it.”

“The Town Council takes this matter very seriously and does not make decisions about litigation based solely on monetary parameters,” said Lacoste. “If we did, all an applicant would have to do is keep spending and wait for us to reach our arbitrary goal. I feel very confident in our legal standing on this issue, in our solicitor’s actions on the town’s behalf, and that the town will prevail.”