The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that the Board of Harbor Commissioners acted improperly when it hiked rates to pilot large vessels into Portland Harbor.

In a Thursday memo, the court affirmed a June 2018 ruling from Superior Court Justice Lance Walker that board members did not have enough evidence to justify increasing the minimum fee ships have to pay to Portland Pilots, a private company that guides ships into the harbor.

In November 2017, board members approved a minimum fee of $1,077 for each trip in and out of the harbor, a 52 percent increase from the previous $709-per-trip fee.

That fee replaced a $1,200-per-trip charge the board approved at the Pilots’ request in May 2017.

The Pilots claimed they needed the rate hike to support their business, which has struggled as fewer large ships come into Portland Harbor. Bay Ferries Ltd,. the Canadian company that used to run a passenger ferry between Portland and Nova Scotia, appealed that ruling in a lawsuit.

Walker, in his ruling, said the board could not determine if the fee was justified because it never checked the Pilots’ financial records.

Walker ordered the board to reconsider the decision, but the board appealed his ruling to the supreme court.

In an interview Thursday, board Chairman Tom Dobbins said he was unaware of the court’s decision and declined to comment on the case.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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