The Board of Commissioners has just announced it will be holding a public hearing on October 12, 2017 at 5:00 pm in South Portland City Council Chambers. The purpose of the public discussion is to consider pilotage fees that may be charged by licensed pilots to vessels operating in Portland Harbor according to a statement released by Kevin Battle, Harbor Master, Portland.
The discussion is intended to provide the Board of Commissioners with an opportunity to consider a change to the authorized pilotage fee and to provide an opportunity to members of the public and interested parties to provide comments on the question the statement said.
Public comment will be taken at this meeting and written comments should be submitted to Kevin Battle, Harbor Master, Port of Portland Mine, 2 Portland Fish Pier, Suite 105, Portland, ME or email phm@portlandharbor.
The Board may vote to propose a change in the pilotage fee and on the details of any such proposal. Proposed changes in the fee resulting from the October 12 meeting will then be considered at a final public hearing, with opportunity for public comment, held at a future date the statement concluded.
Although the Battle statement does not acknowledge this special meeting is in response to a lawsuit filed in August, presumably that is the motivation for this unusual public hearing. In fact, it IS a public hearing in response to a lawsuit filed by Bay Ferries Limited, d/b/a The Cat, against the Board of Commissioners for the Port of Portland and Portland Pilots Inc. filed on August 24, 2017. The plaintiff’s attorney Harold C. Pachios, of Preti, Flaherty, Bellevieu and Pachios, charged that the Board of Commissioners failed to follow legal procedures when it raised pilot fees 70% without informing the plaintiff of the possible increase on an agenda this past May. According to the lawsuit, it took the Board about five minutes to make the determination to raise the fees by 70%. Tom Dobbins, is chair of the Board of Commissioners. Munjoy Hill resident Dan Haley is a long-time member of the Board. (There are no women on the Board of Commissioners!)
Specifically, the Board of Commissioners decided at its May 11, 2017 meeting, it was okay to increase the Portland Pilots fee from $709. to $1,200 for each trip into and out of the Harbor. Consequently, a cost of $2,400 per round trip. That increase was established without providing Bay Ferries of NS the notice to attend the meeting and to testify on its behalf on the matter. Bay Ferries, was never noticed that the fee increase was on the May 11 meeting agenda. The Board also failed to follow other legal procedures challenged by the lawsuit and detailed previously herein on mhn.com.
One Board member told mhn.com recently that this lawsuit was not a “big deal” because it was only about “process.” He further told mhn.com that people just don’t know all of the work that the Board conducts on behalf of residents of southern Maine. Perhaps the Board would consider issuing press releases from time to time detailing its accomplishments so they may be publicized. (In its limited but occasional experience with the Board of Commissioners, mhn.com has found it to be difficult, sometimes impossible, to obtain copies of documents and paperwork because it has been stated it functions under State rules, not Portland city rules – that are different.)
The city’s spokeswoman Jessica Grondin never responded to an inquiry from mhn.com a few days ago as to why a city attorney, Jenn Thompson, is representing a quasi-state Board and Portland Pirates, a private entity in this matter. It is the impression of mhn.com, who found the city to be totally uncooperative in volunteering basic case heading information, that it hoped to have this public hearing scheduled early enough so as to prevent any embarrassing publicity from reaching the public about the lawsuit.
It could well be that there is a bias against The Cat’s continued presence on the Portland waterfront. At a September 6, meeting of the Economic Development Committee, Bill Needleman, waterfront coordinator, presented a memorandum in which he said that it has been difficult to plan for the future use of the Portland Ocean Terminal because of the uncertain future of the ferry. Operations manager at Casco Bay Ferries, and city councilor Nick Mavadones, interpreted the Needleman memo that he wanted “The Cat” to go away. Mavadones presented some justification for its remaining a part of the Portland waterfront. He also said that a further discussion of the disposition of The Cat should not be held in a public place.
On September 20, 2017, a city employee working on the waterfront near The Cat’s berth, told mhn.com that he’d like to see The Cat “gone’ because the city doesn’t make enough money from its docking in the Harbor. Much more money could be made from concerts and similar activities on the waterfront the city employee who did not want to be identified said.
The Superior Court judge had not ruled on the complaint as of this afternoon according to the Clerk of the Court, although he is expected to do so soon.
Please see post herein dated September 20, 2017 for much more background information on the lawsuit filed by Bay Ferries, of NS.