to publish a revised rate structure by early to mid-April

Maine DOT reconsiders controversial ferry ticket pricing

Posted:  Tuesday, March 12, 2019 - 5:45pm
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ISLESBORO — The lawsuit between Islesboro and the Maine Dept. of Transportation is on the back burner as the state agency reviews ticket prices to and from the islands serviced by state-owned ferries. The decision to review the controversial Tariff No. 8 was made following telephone conferences between a Kennebec County Superior Court judge, DOT personnel and Islesboro selectmen.

“The rulemaking process continues and we intend to have a robust outreach through the Ferry Service Advisory Board and other avenues to ensure that island residents have every opportunity to feel that they have been heard,” said Maine DOT Deputy Commissioner Nina Fisher, late in February.

The DOT had a “status conference” Feb. 25 on the ferry rate matter, reported the Islesboro Town Office, adding that the DOT: “requested that the case be further postponed because the new Commissioner has decided to take a fresh look at the ferry rates. MDOT intends to propose a new rate structure by April 1. A public hearing and comment process will follow. In the meantime, Tariff No. 8 will remain in place.”

The next status conference with the judge concerning the lawsuit is scheduled for April 19.
 
Tariff No. 8 earned infamy last spring and fall, as the DOT hiked ferry ticket prices almost across the board, but most dramatically for those traveling to and from Islesboro, which sits three miles across from Lincolnville Beach in upper Penobscot Bay and is served by the Margaret Chase Smith ferry.
 
Many residents commute to the mainland for shopping, medical appointments, education and other reasons, and when the DOT instituted rates in May 2018 that doubled ticket prices for walk-on pedestrians and vehicles, the island community revolted.
 
Surrounding communities, such as Belfast, Camden, Northport, Rockport and Rockland supported Islesboro residents, citing the deleterious effect on the local Midcoast economy.
 
While Islesboro residents and businesses commuting to and from Islesboro adjusted to the new rates, either with suspending trips or hiring private launches, the town filed a suit against the DOT asking for court review of Tariff.
 
In November, at a public hearing in Belfast, citizens railed at a ferry service representative and a DOT attorney, likewise urging an overhaul of the pricing.
 
Then, in January, newly elected Maine Governor Janet Mills appointed new DOT leadership and the tone changed.

Fisher said Feb. 27 that the public process to review the rates is to commence. She qualified, however, the April 1 date, saying it may not be that early.

“For that public process to continue and allow for public input, MaineDOT is required to publish a revised rate structure by early to mid-April,” she said, in an email. “That is not a final rule or proposal in any way shape or form and it should not be perceived as such.  In order to reset the rulemaking process to allow for increased public participation and additional time, we have to publish a revised rate, but again anything published at that time is not final.  Resetting that rulemaking process will allow us that fresh look that is required.  And, I apologize, I don't know where that leaves the suit.”

Islesboro Select Board Chairman Arch Gillies said Feb. 26: “The pain is palpable out here,” he said, considering the current ticket pricing, and its lack of affordability for many Islesboro residents.

“Fewer people are going over [to the mainland]. The good news is that everyone is talking. We are hurting but remain optimistic that reasonable people can remain reasonable. As long as people are open to talking about it, and there is good will, which seems to be the case, we are doing the best we can.”

 


Reach Editorial Director Lynda Clancy at lyndaclancy@penbaypilot.com; 207-706-6657