2018-12-08 / News

Star Line Accepts All Resident Passes After Initial Disagreement

By Stephanie Fortino

A disagreement this fall almost led the City of Mackinac Island to sue Star Line, which had refused to accept Island resident passes from its rival Shepler’s for almost two weeks at the November 1 beginning of the winter passenger season. The city contended Star Line was violating the ferry franchise, and ultimately the company relented. Star Line started accepting the Shepler’s resident passes Tuesday, November 13, after a series of negotiations.

The issue was raised in late October, just days before the winter ferry season began November 1. Instead of paying only $10 for a round trip on the winter ferry, Shepler’s pass holders were forced to pay $31, which includes $26 round trip plus a $5 surcharge.

Mayor Margaret Doud and city attorney Tom Evashevski said they tried to resolve the matter by meeting with Star Line CEO Jerry Fetty and attorney Jim Murray Wednesday, November 7, before the city council met. Negotiations stalled, Mr. Evashevski told the city council that afternoon, as Mr. Fetty and Mr. Murray continued to refuse to accept Island resident passes from Shepler’s.

Following a closed meeting Wednesday to discuss a written legal opinion from Mr. Evashevski, the city council directed its Lansing attorney, Michael Cavanaugh of Frasier Trebilcock, to file a lawsuit against Star Line. After about 20 minutes, the meeting was reopened to the public, and City Clerk Danielle Wightman read aloud a motion giving Mr. Evashevski another chance to negotiate with Star Line the next day. The lawsuit was never filed, however, since Star Line began accepting the Shepler’s resident passes.

Since the first winter ferry service contract was awarded to Arnold Transit Company in 2011, Island resident passes from each boat line have been accepted by the winter ferry operator. In the 2013 agreement, Arnold Transit said that Island residents who have passes through Star Line and Shepler’s would only have to pay a $5 surcharge each way.

This stipulation was included in the first version of the 2018-2023 winter contract the city signed this spring. But Star Line did not sign that contract, instead taking several months to revise the document. In late September, the contract was finally approved, however, the city council signed the contract without noticing Star Line had amended the rate section and would not accept Island resident passes from Shepler’s.

The Transportation Committee reviewed the contract and discussed some other changes at length, including who could qualify as an Island resident. The changes made to the rate schedule were not discussed or pointed out by Star Line or Mr. Evashevski.

Mr. Evashevski told the city council that he was aware that Shepler’s resident passes would not be accepted by Star Line this winter. He also said that he did not know the requirement to accept all resident passes was part of the city’s ferry franchise agreement. Although he is the city’s attorney, Mr. Evashevski was not involved in the negotiations surrounding the ferry franchise agreement, as Mayor Doud represented the city during negotiations with representatives from the three companies operating at the time. Mr. Cavanaugh formalized those negotiations into the ferry franchise, which was adopted in 2012. And the franchise included the protection for all Island resident pass holders.

“It was my misunderstanding,” Mr. Evashevski told the council. “It’s my fault, but I was unaware of this provision.”

Since the 2018-2023 winter ferry contract is contrary to the ferry franchise ordinance, the contract is voidable, Mr. Evashevski said. The franchise “trumps” the contract, he continued.

November 13, Mr. Fetty told the Town Crier that Star Line was working with the city to resolve the issues. He contends the city knew of the conditions when the contract was signed September 26.

“It’s very confusing and it’s been confusing in the past,” he said. “We’re just trying to clarify things. We want to make sure it’s a viable service for folks and will be there in the future.”

While he doesn’t believe Star Line is violating the ferry franchise, Mr. Fetty also said the company, nevertheless, will issue Star Line resident passes to those who have Shepler’s resident passes if they bring proof of their Island residence, such as a driver’s license and utility bill, to the Mackinac Island office. Shepler customers must use a Star Line pass so the cards can be scanned at the dock, and they will also be required to pay the $5 surcharge each way. Star Line has also resumed selling its Island resident passes for $245 each, Mr. Fetty said. Those passes would normally not be available to Island residents after June 1 of each year.

Mr. Fetty said he and Mr. Murray offered solutions to the mayor and Mr. Evashevski at the November 7 meeting.

“That is completely untrue that we have been unwilling to negotiate,” Mr. Fetty said.

There is a perception that Star Line has tried to hoodwink the city by sliding the rate changes into the winter service contract at the last minute, which Mr. Fetty says is untrue, as Mr. Evashevski had been working closely with the company this summer.

“I want people to know that Star Line is committed to the community and we do a lot for these communities. . . This is a partnership and we need to work together,” he said.

At the council meeting Monday, November 19, Mr. Evashevski said the city is willing to continue working with Star Line on two issues it has raised, including the question of who should qualify as a Mackinac Island resident. The council could consider appointing a person or committee to review residency questions, he said. Star Line also alleges that Shepler’s has been selling the discounted resident passes to people who are not residents. Any future discussions of how to define an Island resident should include representatives from both Star Line and Shepler’s, the council agreed.

In St. Ignace, Free Parking Has

Moved to Railroad Dock

In St. Ignace, Star Line is also charging for parking at its biggest dockside lot between the dock and the Galley Restaurant, which has been mostly roped off for the past several weeks. Complaints over the parking situation have led St. Ignace police to monitor the morning rush at the dock, when the many daily commuters convene downtown to take the first boat over to the Island. Star Line does allow passengers free parking at the Railroad Dock (Dock 1), offering a shuttle to the winter ferry dock (Dock 2).

The City of St. Ignace has also raised concerns that Dock 2 was being used solely as a freight dock the past two summers since Star Line purchased the dock. When it was owned and operated by Arnold Transit Company, the dock in the middle of downtown St. Ignace served as one of the primary passenger docks to Mackinac Island. Some concerned citizens contend the decrease in passenger traffic since Star Line took over has resulted in a steep decline in foot traffic and commerce downtown.

The changes in St. Ignace have made parking more organized, reduced congestion, and made traveling to the Island in winter a better experience, Mr. Fetty said. While some concerns about Dock 2 being used for freight were raised last year, Mr. Fetty said the situation hasn’t been a problem this year. He also said downtown seemed busier this summer.

“It was a change, and people don’t like change...” he said. “Now that time has passed, it’s not that big of an issue.”

He also said there isn’t enough parking at Dock 2 to use it as a summer passenger dock for Star Line, as it barely has enough parking for winter. Having passengers at the Railroad Dock (Dock 1) and Dock 3 on either end of downtown is better logistically for Star Line and reduces congestion, he said.

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2018-12-08 digital edition