Maine DOT asks court for delay in ferry rate lawsuit

By Stephanie Grinnell | Jan 11, 2019

Maine Department of Transportation has asked the court to delay proceedings related to a ferry rate hike, according to Islesboro Select Board Chairman Arch Gillies.

He wrote in a newsletter to island residents that attorneys for Maine DOT notified Islesboro’s attorneys of the request and that Maine DOT is seeking a delay until March 1.

“This ensures that a fresh review of the rate increases will take place,” Gillies said.

Islesboro filed a lawsuit against Maine DOT last summer in the hope of reversing 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 stayed action on the suit until Jan. 1, or until rulemaking is complete, according to a Nov. 2 ruling by Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy.

The Islesboro selectman advised that Maine DOT attorneys said it would be beneficial to delay proceedings “to permit the new administration’s leadership team to take its place.”

Gillies noted he attended the inauguration of Gov. Janet Mills and described it as a “spectacular and uplifting event.”

“The very positive tone of Gov. Mills’ acceptance speech reaffirms our belief that her administration will seriously review the ferry situation and that together, working with Islesboro, a new, fair rate structure can be developed and implemented,” he said. “It will take time, energy, and brainpower to succeed. The Islesboro Select Board is convinced that, ultimately, we will.”

Sen. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, and Rep. Vicki Doudera, D-Camden, have proposed legislation related to ferry rates. Herbig’s proposal is currently LR 310, An Act to Ensure Fair Access and Pricing for Residents Who Use the Maine State Ferry Service. Doudera’s proposal is currently LR 375, An Act to Revise the Calculation of Tolls Established for the Maine State Ferry Service. The bill numbers are subject to change, as they are initial proposals that may be changed or combined with other legislative bills.

 

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