Interstate files as intervenorQuonset ferry owner: Interstate “scaring” island
Interstate Navigation, which operates a year-round Block Island ferry service, has filed a motion to intervene in the consideration of a proposed fast ferry service that would run out of Quonset Point, R.I.
In the motion to intervene, which would grant Interstate legal status in the hearing of the proposed ferry before the R.I. Division of the Public Utilities and Carriers, Interstate said that if the new fast ferry service was established it could interrupt its “lifeline” service to the island and result in revenue loss for the company.
Rhode Island Fast Ferry, which runs high-speed ferries from Quonset Point to Martha’s Vineyard, has applied to the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers to operate a new high-speed service to Block Island from Quonset. This would be a summer-only service.
R.I. Fast Ferry president Charles Donadio, Jr. responded to Interstate’s motion to intervene in a statement to The Block Island Times: “Although not granted nor even addressed by the Commission, Interstate Navigation’s premature motion to intervene is not surprising. They make the same arguments they made 15 years ago when my former company Island Hi-Speed Ferry (Athena) applied to operate fast ferry service from Galilee to Block Island. These unfounded assumptions are clearly being stated to scare the Block Island community.”
Public Utilities Commission spokesperson Tom Kogut said that the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers will consider the motion to intervene, not the Public Utilities Commission. Kogut could not say whether or not the motion was “premature,” explaining that would be up to the Division to decide. The deadline to apply for intervenor status is Aug. 30. The Block Island Town Council, although it has not taken a position on the proposed ferry, voted at an Aug. 21 meeting to have the town intervene in the rate case.
Donadio also said that there are already several seasonal ferries: “There have been two new fast ferr[ies] which now operate seasonally (the Athena from Galilee and Cross Sound Ferry from New London, Conn.) both of which have not [a]ffected Interstate Navigation’s other services. Moreover, Interstate itself has recently established a third hi-speed ferry from Newport, and again there was no impact upon Interstate’s other services.”
Interstate’s motion to intervene says the new fast ferry, if approved, could possibly reduce the number of Interstate ferry runs in the winter.
The motion to intervene, dated Aug. 19, said: “To the extent that passenger traffic (and accompanying revenues) are lost to this competing service, this would either force Interstate’s rates to dramatically increase not only for freight, but for the remaining passenger traffic as well, and/or Interstate would be forced to significantly reduce its service level to the Island, especially during the winter months when Interstate operates at a major loss.”
Interstate said that this competitor would “skim the cream” off Interstate’s business — meaning the move would take away business from Interstate during the heavily travelled summer months. The motion, which was filed by Michael McElroy of the firm Schacht & McElroy out of Providence, cites the number of ferry passengers in the summer to make this point.
Interstate carries “about 200,000” round-trip ticketed passengers per year to Block Island, according to the motion, which also said the number of passengers Intertstate carried from May through September was “about 174,000 round-trip ticketed passengers.”
If the Quonset ferry reduces the number of passengers on the Interstate ferries, the motion said, “[T]his will drive rates up for freight and vehicles so high that it would have a dramatic negative impact on Block Island, its residents and its businesses. It would drive up the cost of all goods on Block Island including food, gasoline, fuel oil, building materials, etc.”
The motion continues: “In the worst case scenario, Interstate’s rates could be forced so high that Interstate would be unable to recover its costs from declining traffic and could be forced to dramatically reduce service, lay off employees, sell vessels, etc.”
The Division of Public Utilities and Carriers held a pre-hearing conference on the fast ferry application on Aug. 21 at 10 a.m. This conference set a procedural schedule for the application process. According to Public Utilities Commission spokesperson Kogut, the procedure will tentatively continue until May 2014. Public hearings on the application are tentatively set for next April 8, 9 and 10.