Connecticut Pilot Commission Recommends Pay Raise for Block Island Sound MOA Pilots

Pilots toiling under the rules of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) administrated by the states of Connecticut and New York in Long Island Sound may be getting their first raise in pay in more than 23 years. A recommendation put forth by the Connecticut Pilot Commission during last Thursday’s December meeting would raise pilot pay across the board in 6% increments each, for the next three years. The recommendation, approved by the commission in a 6-1 vote, still must be approved by the Connecticut DOT and the New York Pilot Commission.

In Long Island Sound, a total of three different pilot associations, along with several independent individuals, perform pilotage duties under a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) signed by the state commissioners in New York and Connecticut. Formalized and signed in 2000 and adopted by the Connecticut Legislature and DOT in 2003, the MOA was approved in answer to what has been characterized by industry observers as disorganization and cutthroat tactics prevalent in the sound. The MOA holds together a fragile peace between rival pilots and their professional associations.

The pilotage rate issue was the main topic of conversation for last Thursday’s meeting. Long a bone of contention for the MOA pilots, Thursday’s vote is somewhat of a hollow victory. According to Michael Eisele, Chairman of the Connecticut Pilot Commission, two other “more aggressive” proposals failed to win broad-based support during the meeting. In the end, the lone dissenter at the meeting was David Pohorylo, who runs a shipping agency in New Haven. Pohorylo was unavailable to respond to MarEx inquiries on Wednesday. Vin Cashin, a Block Island Sound pilot himself, abstained from the vote.

Eisele told MarEx on Wednesday, “I think the Connecticut DOT will support the raise.” He added, “I’d be surprised if New York doesn’t agree to it. Frankly, they’d probably support a greater increase.” Indeed, the state of New York and New Jersey have failed to raise pilot rates in New York Harbor only once in the past seven years. Additionally, it was voted that the pilot’s 6% fee currently paid to the state of Connecticut DOT should be escrowed and now used for pilot training and certification expenses. The fee, as it currently stands, goes into the Connecticut transportation “General Fund.”

Rates and fees were not the only items on the agenda. Eisele told MarEx on Wednesday that Captain Walker, an MOA participant, had made allegations that eight pilots boarded or disembarked vessels at locations other than the designated Montauk Point pilot station. Walker himself has recently been disciplined for doing just that. Charles Beck, the Connecticut DOT’s Maritime Transportation Manager also reported that additional allegations of boarding or disembarkation in violation of the pilotage regulations had since been made by Captain Walker. CDOT is reviewing these allegations. Walker is appealing disciplinary action against him in Superior Court.

The use of the Montauk Point pilot station and pilot discretion in selecting boarding and disembarkation stations was also brought up. The commission voted to revisit the issue at its January, 2007 public meeting. Many MOA pilots feel that the positioning and boarding requirements of the pilot stations for Long Island Sound transits negatively affects safety.

2006 has been a tough year for the MOA participants. Representatives of the Connecticut-based contingent of the Block Island Pilots want to see wholesale changes in how Connecticut structures, licenses, and supervises marine pilots in Connecticut. Some of these pilots are on record as saying that Connecticut - absent significant and far-reaching changes in how they operate - is poised to abdicate its ability to control waterborne commerce in its own waters to neighboring Rhode Island and New York. Earlier this year, The Connecticut DOT announced its intention to formulate a Request for Proposal with respect to the management and operation of the Joint Rotation. The RFP, originally targeted for the end of the year, has yet to be distributed.

Editor’s note: MarEx will continue to follow developments in Long Island Sound in the New Year. MarEx readers who missed our five part series on pilot issues in Long Island Sound entitled, “A Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” can E-mail MarEx and request a resend. The Series was sent in a complete package in August of 2006. Contact Joseph Keefe, MarEx Managing Editor at jkeefe@maritime-executive.com with questions, requests and / or input.