Two ferries for Prudence Island a possibility

Prudence Ferry-Rich

A competing ferry service for Prudence Island is one step closer to becoming a reality.

In the latest development of the Prudence ferry service saga, the Advocacy Section of the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers recommended Tuesday that the Division grant A&R Marine’s application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN).

A decision is not expected to be made until all parties — the towns of Portsmouth and Bristol, A&R Marine and Prudence Island Ferry Inc. — submit a post-hearing brief, further advocating their positions.

In a Jan. 21 letter to the Division, Leo J. Wold, assistant attorney general, states that A&R Marine should be granted the CPCN “subject to the company’s identifying and purchasing an appropriate vessel, securing financing, obtaining docking facilities, and any other terms and conditions,” of the Division.

Mr. Wold also debunks the argument made by Timothy Dodd, legal counsel for Prudence Island Ferry Inc., that A&R Marine isn’t “fit and willing” to provide ferry service to and from Prudence Island to the mainland dock in Bristol. He highlighted A&R Marine’s management team’s island residency and as long-standing customers of the current ferry service as reasons why A&R Marine’s testimony “cannot be considered as simply self-serving.”

In a Dec. 5 hearing continuation, Mr. Dodd questioned A&R Marine’s ability to provide ferry service, based on a lack of a vessel, and adequate dockage. He then suggested that the Division deny the application because of that.

However, in his letter, Mr. Wold drew upon the Division’s history in recognizing the flexible nature of a CPCN. Approving the certificate would be subject to the fulfillment of the CPCN’s terms and conditions, he said.

Mr. Wold also rebuked the argument about whether the existence of two ferries would kill that lifeline service to Prudence Island, referencing Bruce Medley’s — owner of Prudence Island Ferry Inc. — own operating history. In the mid-1980s, Mr. Medley was operating Island Transport Company, which was in direct competition with Prudence Island Ferry Inc., then owned by Luther Blount.

“Blount got fed up with the Islanders’ constant complaints about his service, and put out overtures about selling his company,” Mr. Wold states.

Mr. Medley then assumed Prudence Island Ferry Inc., and the services of Island Transport Company discontinued.

“When a ferry operator can no longer be run in a profitable manner, time and again, history shows that the industry consolidates,” Mr. Wold states. “The weaker operator exits the market, typically transferring its assets to a surviving entity that continues in business as a financially stronger entity.”

The Advocacy Section’s involvement usually takes place when an application is highly contested, explained Terry Mercer, associate administrator at the Division.

“It’s to make sure that everything is presented to the hearing officer, so that he can make a proper decision,” Mr. Mercer said.

Special Assistant Attorney General Christy Hetherington, of the Advocacy Section, sat in on A&R Marine’s continued hearing Dec. 5, because of comments made during the first hearing in October.

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