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June 8, 2018

Portland harbor commissioners appeal court ruling on pilot fee hike

The Portland Board of Harbor Commissioners is appealing Superior Court Justice Lance Walker's ruling last week that voided a roughly 50% rate hike on fees that pilots can charge to guide large, foreign vessels into Portland.

The Bangor Daily News reported Walker's ruling faulted the commissioners for obtaining information about pilot expenses but not revenue. The board in November enacted the rate hike, which resulted in a lawsuit from Bay Ferries LLC, which operates The Cat ferry from Portland to Nova Scotia. The board's appeal will go to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

"We're trying to have a viable pilot service in the port of Portland," Board Chairman Thomas Dobbins told the BDN.

The Board of Harbor Commissioners is responsible for regulating navigation and commerce within Portland Harbor.

The board voted unanimously last November to set the minimum fee that pilots charge to ferry ships through the harbor to the equivalent of $1,077, altering a May decision that had hiked the fee even higher above the longtime minimum of $709, the BDN reported at the time. The new pilot fee was smaller than the $1,200 minimum that the pilots requested.

State and federal law requires that a pilot guide large, foreign ships in and out of port. During deliberations at the time, Dobbins and other commissioners said they felt the fee increase was reasonable because the pilots have lost business and revenue in recent years as the number of tankers calling at the Portland-Montreal pipeline has plummeted.

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