A continuing legal battle, which has slowed development of Rhode Island Fast Ferry’s Block Island service, effectively shut off the engines this year for starting it, said Charles Donadio, company president.
Last August Donadio said, “We are going to build a dock there in Old Harbor and we plan to start service there in May of 2020.” However, he said this week that the unresolved court matters with competitor Interstate Navigation and Block Island’s town government now have forced a postponement.
“It will go on a slow path, take its own time and when it happens, it happens,” said a beleaguered Donadio this week. “The Town of New Shoreham and Interstate Navigation have been full-court press fighting me and dragging it out as long as possible,” he said.
New Shoreham Town Manager Ed Roberge has said the town opposes the ferry service because it will bring more passengers to the island, create public safety concerns and there may not be enough landing space in Old Harbor.
Both the Town of New Shoreham and Interstate have filed briefs in the Rhode Island State Supreme Court to stop the ferry service. The town and Interstate claim that the Division of Public Utilities, which licensed RIFF for operation, “failed to properly handle this matter from the beginning,” noting “legal and procedural irregularities.”
Donadio maintains, that his marketing research shows that “this service is needed, it’s wanted by the State of Rhode Island, it’s wanted by people.”
He said he already has a license to operate, is waiting for the dock to be built and “it will be eight years next year we have been delayed” following the July 2, 2013, initial application for service.
Meanwhile, he is continuing to operate service to Martha’s Vineyard, lighthouse sightseeing tours in Narragansett Bay, private charters and his crew transfer vessel — another form of a ferry — that has for nearly four years transported workers and materials to the turbine wind farm off Block Island.
Last week he received a grant for up to $30,000 to help with costs associated with preparing his Quonset Point docking and service area for more associated vessels with the Block Island wind farm and others that may be built.
“Rhode Island Fast Ferry is pursuing an expansion of its offshore wind services in Quonset Point and down the East Coast,” the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation said when announcing the award. “This grant funding will support a third of total permitting costs for the project.”
Donadio said he is spending upwards of $100,000 in fees for permits from the Coastal Resources Management Council, Department of Environmental Management and Army Corps of Engineers.
“Rhode Island Fast Ferry’s Quonset Point Facility is ideally located to support the offshore wind industry; in order to support this industry growth, shoreside investment in Rhode Island Fast Ferry’s terminal facility is needed,” the corporation said in its announcement.
The money is part of the first round of 15 awards totaling about $800,000 from the state’s Site Readiness Program designed to spur business development in different parts of the state by helping pay for technical assistance and site-specific planning and improvements.
Donadio said that dredging the harbor is one major project for him to ready the state land on which his terminal is built.
“It is 25 percent usable now and the rest is shoal bed. We are looking to dredge the whole harbor so that we can use 100 percent of the harbor” for more wind farm ferries for Block Island as well as other sites, he said.
“This all will have a tremendous economic benefit for Rhode Island in terms of more jobs and more opportunities,” he added.
In addition, this creates opportunity for his wind farm operations — known as Atlantic Wind Transfers — to prepare for future expansion. It is the only company in the United States that has the specially-rigged boats to dock at a wind turbine, he said.
“An opportunity like this is huge for a company like mine because we obviously have all the experience in what we do and will allow for quick expansion as more needs develop,” he said.
In addition, the same state program in an unrelated award gave the Town of North Kingstown a grant up to $15,000 to support town efforts to identify redevelopment sites and conduct an audit and review of the area’s existing regulatory framework.
This study will lead to the recommendation of changes in regulations and other policies to expedite development, the corporation said.