The Block Island Times

Ferry companies denied intervenor status in Quonset ferry proposal

By Derek Gomes | Mar 01, 2014

A Providence Superior Court judge has upheld a Division of Public Utilities and Carriers’ decision to deny intervenor status to Intrastate Navigation and Block Island Express in the upcoming hearings regarding Rhode Island Fast Ferry’s application to operate a seasonal, passenger fast ferry service between Quonset Point and Block Island.

In August, Charlie Donadio Jr., founder and owner of R.I. Fast Ferry, which provides ferry service between Quonset and Martha’s Vineyard, applied for a certificate of public convenience and necessity to run two to four daily round-trip, passenger-only fast ferries between Quonset and Block Island during the summer.

The Town of New Shoreham, Interstate Navigation, the Connecticut-based operator of the traditional ferry service between Block Island and Point Judith; Intrastate Navigation, the Connecticut-based company that owns the ferry terminal, docks, ramps and parking in Block Island’s Old Harbor; and Block Island Express, also based in Connecticut, the company that operates the fast ferry service between Point Judith and Block Island; all filed for intervenor status.

Intervenor status would have allowed those companies the ability to ask R.I. Fast Ferry representatives questions during testimony and to present witnesses during its certificate of public convenience and necessity hearing.
In September, the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers’ granted the town intervenor status.

In filing for intervenor status, Interstate Navigation lawyers argued that the additional competition would lead to increased rates and reduced service to Block Island. “If this applicant in this matter is allowed to ‘skim the cream’ of Interstate’s business (i.e., its summertime day tripper passengers) this will drive rates up for freight and vehicles and other passengers so high that it would have a dramatic impact on Block Island, its residents and its businesses,” wrote Interstate’s attorney Michael McElroy in a filing seeking intervenor status to the Division.

“[T]he Division recognizes that existing carriers do not have a legal right to maintain a monopoly upon services rendered, and that increased competition is not a valid ground for denying a common carrier [certificate of public convenience and necessity],” wrote the Division’s Hearing Officer John Spirito Jr. in a decision issued Sept. 24.

While the Division denied Interstate Navigation intervenor status for most of the hearing, it granted representatives the right to participate in the docket “for the purpose of safe-guarding the year-round lifeline services it provides to Block Island,” Spirito added.

Block Island Express and Intrastate Navigation argued the addition of R.I. Fast Ferry would impact dock schedules, and lead to service delays, an increase in congestion and the possibility of collisions between the ferries. R.I. Fast Ferry objected to the request, arguing that the issues the companies raised were the jurisdiction of the state Coastal Resources Management Council and the New Shoreham Harbormaster, not the Division.

The Division agreed, with Spirito ruling that concerns such as increased boat and pedestrian traffic in Block Island’s Old Harbor would be addressed by other state and local agencies. and denied both companies intervenor status. Both appealed the denials to Superior Court.

“This Court must uphold an agency decision where substantial evidence exists on the record to support its findings,” Justice Patricia A. Hurst wrote in her bench decision dated Feb. 17. “There was no error of law on the part of the hearing officer.”
Hurst’s ruling to uphold the Division’s decision allows the application process to resume with public hearings scheduled to begin May 7 at the Division’s offices, 89 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick.

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