Council opposes Quonset ferryDonadio vows to press ahead
Despite input from some island residents that a new high-speed ferry would provide healthy competition for Block Island’s existing ferry companies, the Town Council voted 4-1 to oppose a potential ferry service from Quonset Point to Block Island.
The council said its reasons for opposing the service, which is being proposed by Quonset-based company Rhode Island Fast Ferry, include the fact that the docking space in Old Harbor for the ferry is unknown. Rhode Island Fast Ferry is asking the town to possibly build a dock to accommodate it.
In addition, the service will be seasonal — it won’t run in the wintertime — and it will not carry freight. Currently, Interstate Navigation is the only year-round ferry company that services the island, and it is also the only ferry that carries freight.
“It’s hard to have position on the ferry when you don’t know where its going to land,” said First Warden Kim Gaffett. “I agree competition is healthy, but the service we’re talking about is not going to service the island year-round, and is not going to carry freight. It is asking us — the town — to build a dock for its service.”
Gaffett made the motion to oppose the ferry application at a Wednesday, Sept. 18, council meeting. The opposition will be part of the Town Council’s motion to intervene in the proposed ferry’s application, which is currently before the R.I. Division of the Public Utilities and Carriers.
Town Councilor Sean McGarry was the only one who voted against the motion. He said that Rhode Island Fast Ferry would provide competition for Interstate, which he argued has been “moving away” from its service to the island. Recently, Interstate increased its freight rates, passenger rates and commuter rates — a decision that has been controversial on Block Island.
“Building a dock gives us the opportunity to control the harbor for any current and future transportation,” said McGarry.
Rhode Island Fast Ferry President Charles Donadio attended the Wednesday Town Council meeting, and informed the council of a grant option that could help the town pay for a new docking space. However, the grant would only be available if the town partnered with Rhode Island Fast Ferry, because it is only available to “urban” locations (Quonset qualifies, Block Island does not).
“I don’t want to do it [build a dock] based on the fact that somebody needs a place to park a boat in order to make the money they want to make with a certain service,” said Second Warden Ken Lacoste. “I think that we really should be wary of doing anything to undermine the money that we might spend on other infrastructure.”
The day after the council meeting, Donadio weighed in to The Block Island Times about the council decision.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed in how the council feels,” Donadio said. “It’s apparent that the town [residents] want competition, but it seems the council has no intention on moving on a new ferry service anytime soon.”
While Donadio has said that he does not intend on fighting the town and he would prefer to work alongside the town — not against it — he is not ready to give up on his application.
“I’m not withdrawing my application at this point in time. I’m waiting to see what the PUC [Public Utilities Commission] decides on the intervenor applications,” he told The Block Island Times, even though he had previously suggested he might withdraw his application if the town didn’t support it. “I’m taking it one week at a time.”
Donadio also said that the council decision seemed to suggest “they thought it is too good to be true. But it’s the real thing. I’ve got the financing to give them a leg up. But I think the council hesitated.”
During the Wednesday meeting, Tourism Councilor Steve Filippi, spoke on behalf of the Tourism Council, which last week voted 5-0 (with two recusals) to support Rhode Island Fast Ferry.
“Unanimously, 5-0, we asked you [the Town Council] to support this,” said Filippi. “The reason behind that was it would build jobs and create shoulder season. It would help us build our businesses and increase our employment. We feel as business owners that this is a great idea. Please help us support this.”
Island resident Rosemarie Ives also urged the Town Council to support the fast ferry application. “I want to speak in support of the application,” she said. “If, for no other reason, but strategically for your relationship with Interstate Navigation. It helps you strategically for the future. Competition does make a difference.”
Other island residents disagreed. “I think his [Donadio’s] presentation was really good,” said Bob Fallon. “But it’s presented to you as if we’re the winner. This is his business proposal, and it’s nothing without the town.”