Proposed changes on ferry tolls has island residents worried

BELFAST, Maine (WABI) - The Maine State Ferry Service Advisory Board held a public hearing to discuss a new ferry rate plan that would bring off-season rates down, but raise them in the summer.

After months of discussions, the board believes this may be the final hearing before they make a decision.

"I've had a lot of meetings out on the islands. We had a hearing before, and so we have a voluminous record of information now. And now it's time to go ahead and put out some rates that will be effective October 1st," said Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner Bruce Van Note.

But some people are concerned about how these rate changes will affect people who live on the islands.

Many island residents were not pleased with the last rate change, and in some instances, ridership went down.

"It has led to people moving off the island already from my community. So in May of last year, our rates went up by more than 100 percent, and we've already lost several families and several kids in the school. And for a school that has approximately 100 students, if you lose three students, that's a pretty big chunk," said Gabriel Pendleton, a resident of Islesboro.

"They're going see a lot of benefits, they're going to see community discounts, clearer and expanded medical exemptions. They're going to see the definition of a child go all the way to 17, which helps out island families. So I think most islanders will actually see some benefits. But some will feel some seasonal costs," said Van Note.

"Well they have to make decisions, hard decisions, about do we ration our dollars for food on the table, for medical expenses, for education of our kids. Forget their own retirement, there's no money for that. They can't even afford to get to the mainland as often as they used to," said Jeff Diggins of Islesboro.

Islands that would be affected by the new rates include Islesboro, Matinicus, Swans Island, Frenchboro, North Haven, and Vinalhaven.

A final decision is expected within the next few weeks.