PORTSMOUTH — Now that a toll has been eliminated from the Sakonnet River Bridge, the Town of Portsmouth is going after the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) for reimbursement of the “illegal” levy collected, which is said to be approaching a total of $1 million.
The town first filed suit in U.S. District Court of Rhode Island back in April 2013 to get the toll squashed. The town is seeking a legal determination and declaratory judgment that tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge are illegal under the “freedom from tolls” provision of the Federal-Aid Highway Act, and a permanent injunction against defendants preventing the collection of tolls.
Listed as defendants are Michael P. Lewis of the R.I. Department of Transportation (RIDOT); Daniel J. Berman, division administrator of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Victor Mendez, administrator of the FHWA; Buddy Croft, executive director of the R.I. Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA); as well as RITBA as a whole.
Last month, however, the R.I. General Assembly passed a budget that reversed tolling on the bridge, which was officially halted on June 20.
That wasn’t enough for The Town of Portsmouth, however.
On Sunday afternoon, Town Solicitor Kevin Gavin electronically filed a memorandum in federal court seeking the following:
• first, that RITBA “be ordered to disgorge and make restitution of all tolls illegally charged and collected from motorists crossing the Sakonnet River Bridge; and
• “that Portsmouth be allowed to recoup all its legal fees and expenses incurred in connection with this action under the common fund doctrine.”
According to the document filed with the federal court Sunday, Mr. Croft stated under oath — in response to a preliminary injunction that Portsmouth had sought to prevent the toll — that “RITBA could easily determine every account (EZ-Pass and non-EZ-Pass) paying such tolls, and provide a refund of all tolls collected if the toll was later determined by the Court to be illegal.
“Thus, it was the defendants themselves who initially suggested that restitution and disgorgement of tolls was an appropriate alternative to the granting preliminary injunctive relief.”
Portsmouth’s motion for a preliminary injunction was denied and RITBA collected 10-cent tolls from Aug. 19, 2013 to June 20, 2014.
“It has been reported that during this period RITBA charged and/or collected tolls approaching $1 million,” states the memorandum filed by the Town of Portsmouth.
The town is proposing “an award of attorneys’ fees based on (a third) of the total amount of tolls charged and collected (and to be collected) by RITBA, plus expert witness fees and other costs and expenses incurred by Portsmouth in connection with this litigation.”
The balance of the tolls, according to the memorandum, “should be refunded to all persons who paid them on a pro rata basis.”