Editorial : First chapter ends
The conclusion of David Oliveira's six-year service as Steamship Authority member from New Bedford marks the end of the first chapter in the story of what has become the Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, Hyannis, Woods Hole, Fairhaven, and New Bedford Steamship Authority. (Fairhaven, across the Acushnet River from New Bedford is where the Steamship Authority has built its extensive repair and maintenance headquarters, and where some believe some future ferry service may well be based.)
The Steamship Authority is a more regional enterprise than it has ever been, but not as regionally-minded as it will, with luck and keen planning, become. Mr. Oliveira's contribution has been significant, despite having begun as it did in political turmoil, and despite the Steamship Authority's having failed to employ its partnership with New Bedford to greater advantage, as it might have done.
Indeed, the thoughtful, collegial decision making which now takes place among the five Authority members, including Mr. Oliveira, contrasts sharply with the boatline's old ways. The historic practice was that the two Islands combined to get what each wanted, at the expense of the line as a whole, and Falmouth and Hyannis got the hindmost.
Of course, this is not owing entirely, or even substantially, to the fact that New Bedford is now, once again, a Steamship Authority shareholder. Mr. Oliveira has certainly been a constructive presence, and we hope his replacement will behave with the insight and grace that marked his tenure, but the changed, broadened posture of the boatline and the refreshed roster of talented members (Bob O'Brien of Hyannis, long a dependably reasonable voice, is the only current member to have been through the New Bedford wars) have led to more focused and disciplined oversight and management. The boatline is not as parochial in its behavior as it historically has been, in part because of the insightful contributions of non-islanders. Vineyarders may benefit greatly from this broader view and sharper focus on the sound management of the business.
As Mr. Oliveira told Times managing editor Nelson Sigelman this week, the SSA has put behind it the uproar over New Bedford's reattachment to the boatline.
"Now, all the communities are working together," Mr. Oliveira said.
Going forward, the question for Vineyarders is, what might this broadened, regional, cooperative base support? How might the pressures, financial and otherwise, that bear on the two island and two Cape Cod SSA ports be relieved? And, most important of all, will the managers and members of the Steamship Authority look for and recognize the potential that this regional base offers, and develop it?