Maine Department of Transportation has requested an additional court delay regarding Islesboro’s lawsuit around ferry rates.

In an email to island residents, the town said Maine DOT “intends to propose a new rate structure by April 1st. A public hearing and comment process will follow. In the meantime, Tariff No. 8 will remain in place.”

Implementation of Tariff No. 8 led Islesboro to file a lawsuit, citing improper procedure by Maine DOT in establishing and approved the new fees. With the lawsuit, Islesboro hoped to reverse a flat-rate increase to ferry tolls to several islands in Penobscot Bay. Maine DOT oversees Maine State Ferry Service, which has predicted a budget shortfall and more than a year ago began the process of gathering public input about an increase in ferry rates. Formally known as Tarriff No. 8, the new flat-rate structure took effect in May 2018, over the objections of islanders.

Under the new rate structure, Islesboro saw an approximate 110-percent increase in the cost of a car and passenger, one of the most common tickets, for the 3-mile ride between Lincolnville and Islesboro. Most other islands served by the ferry service, all of which are longer-distance trips, saw a decrease in fares.

There was a public hearing in Belfast on Nov. 28 as part of the rulemaking process, which the court — as part of Islesboro's lawsuit — determined Maine DOT must follow when setting ferry rates. The court previously stayed action on the suit until Jan. 1, or until rulemaking is complete. The state then requested more time, until March 1, to allow new leadership to evaluate the rate changes.

Rep. Vicki Doudera, D-Camden, represents Islesboro and met with the new commissioner Feb. 15. She said in a newsletter to residents, “The Commissioner said he favors collaboration over confrontation and knows there needs to be a reset/do-over of the current situation. Nothing specific yet but we feel good about this first encounter and encouraged as we go forward.”

Doudera also has proposed legislation to revise how ferry rates are calculated. Her bill, LD 380, was referred to the Transportation Committee in January. According to the bill summary, it "requires the Department of Transportation, by rule, to establish ferry tolls for each route of travel that are based upon the cost of service for vehicles, freight and passengers, and allows the department to provide discounted tolls for frequent usage of the Maine State Ferry Service. This bill also requires that the Marine Highway account must fund 100 percent of the capital costs and no more than 75 percent of the operating costs of the Maine State Ferry Service."

Under the current funding formula, costs are split between the state and ferry service revenues. The current statute reads: "The state support to the Marine Highway account may not exceed 50 percent of the budgeted revenues that support the operating cost of the Maine State Ferry Service."