Tisbury security/firefighting boat hits rough seas


A Texas shipyard now at work building a boat for the town of Tisbury with funds from a $265,306 Homeland Security grant intended to fund the design of vessels to give security, fire fighting and training capabilities on Martha’s Vineyard waters.

Tisbury harbormaster Jay Wilbur is overseeing the construction. The new vessel is no off-the-shelf design. Instead, over the past several months, Mr. Wilbur has requested changes in the boat design to meet his requirements and the conditions under which it will operate. Delivery of the new boat is expected this month.

In a highly critical survey letter, dated May 21, and in a conversation with The Times, Capt. Richard L. Frenzel, a marine surveyor the town hired to inspect the project, said Mr. Wilbur and John Bugbee, town administrator and chief procurement officer, lacked the skills and experience to plan and oversee the construction of a vessel. Citing a particular deficiency in the new vessel, he said she will not have the firefighting capabilities described in the grant application and award.

Mr. Wilbur and Mr. Bugbee dispute Mr. Frenzel’s assessment.

“Most of his comments are based on processes for Coast Guard inspected vessels —passenger-carrying vessels — that’s not what we are building,” Mr. Wilbur told The Times in a telephone conversation yesterday.

As for Mr. Frenzel’s view that the boat will not have firefighting capabilities, Mr. Wilbur said, “He does not know what he is talking about.”

Mr. Wilbur said he has been in the boating business, at least semi-professionally, since he was 14 years old and has been involved in several town boatbuilding projects. “I think you would be hard pressed to find someone more experienced,” he said.

He said members of the harbor management committee, local boatbuilders, and members of the fire department all participated in the process.

Selectmen weigh issue

The Tisbury selectmen briefly discussed the harbor patrol boat inspection report at a meeting on May 31. Selectmen asked Mr. Wilbur, Jim Lobdell, chairman of the harbor management committee, town administrator John Bugbee, and selectman chairman Geoghan Coogan to discuss issues raised in the report with the boatbuilder and give a report.

At a meeting Tuesday, Mr. Coogan said the selectmen received written comments about the boat survey report from Mr. Wilbur, Mr. Lobdell, and the Welded Boat Company of Palacios, Texas. Mr. Wilbur did not attend the meeting.

“I think it’s safe to say the board is satisfied with the responses from the builder, the harbormaster, and Jim Lobdell,” Mr. Coogan said.

“I got the report and the survey, and I’m not very happy, and I don’t think you people should be very happy with it,” former Vineyard Marine owner Gene DeCosta commented from the audience.

Mr. Coogan said he also had questions about the welding, which Mr. Lobdell answered to his satisfaction.

He suggested that Mr. DeCosta read the boatbuilder’s response to the survey report. “I think that the surveyor did bring out a lot of issues, and that’s going to force us to focus on where we are, as well,” Mr. Coogan said. “And that’s why we did what we did and asked for the builder’s response. Jim is going to stay on top of it.”

MDA spells boat

The town’s grant application for federal funding in fiscal year 2009 was tailored to meet the national focus on terrorism under the heading of Marine Domain Awareness (MDA).

“Due to the nature of our request our primary focus is to enhance MDA and be better prepared to prevent, detect, and respond to an IED/WMD attack,” the town wrote.

In describing how the project offers the highest risk reduction potential at the least cost, the town responded: “The proposed project is to replace a vessel that is nearing the end of its useful life. This request will allow us to use one vessel to efficiently and effectively increase MDA to detect IED/WMD’s and respond to an IED attack with full firefighting capabilities, which we do not have now, in order to minimize loss of life and economic consequences of the attack.”

The town requested and was granted $265,306.

The town issued a request for proposals (RFP) that described a new boat 26 to 28-feet in length, deep-vee, aluminum fire/security boat powered by twin outboard 4 stroke engines mounted on a welded aluminum bracket behind a full height transom.

It was to be and “all welded aluminum alloy commercial patrol boat with the capability to handle the waters in and around Martha’s Vineyard and Vineyard Sound.”

Island view

In a telephone conversation Monday, Mr. Bugbee, said he, Mr. Wilbur, and John Crocker, administrative assistant harbormaster and author of the grant, have been the principals involved.

“The harbormaster’s office wrote the grant, the grant was awarded, and since that time it’s been Jay who has been meeting with the contractor and visiting the shipyard,” he said. Mr. Bugbee said Mr. Wilbur has kept him informed on the status of the project.

“There are certainly areas of the report that we need to follow up on, and we need to work through,” Mr. Bugbee said. “I will also say there are areas of the report that are critical, however the person who is doing the analysis (the surveyor) does not have the big picture, like we do.”

For example, Mr. Bugbee said the specifications that would allow the boat to tow a 70-foot vessel, a capability not likely to be needed very often, were changed to give more flexibility for other uses.

Mr. Bugbee said he agrees that no change orders should be issued without written confirmation.

“I have asked for a full list of the change orders that have been issued to date and approved by the harbormaster,” Mr. Bugbee said. “When I get that, we will make sure that those are put in writing and attached to the contract.”

Mr. Bugbee provided The Times with a copy of the boatbuilder’s response.

In a five-page response to the survey dated May 31 and addressed to Mr. Wilbur, Terrell Wiggins, general manager of the Welded Boat Company, wrote, “While appreciating the input from Mr. Frenzel, we find that his opinions and recommendations, while being good ones, — may not exactly apply to the build and purpose of your boat.”

Mr. Wilbur also provided selectmen with a point by point written response. For example, the surveyor was critical of changes Mr. Wilbur made to an aluminum towing bollard, because it could hinder fire fighting and towing capabilities, and the lack of a towing safety shield. Mr. Frenzel also said that, according to the shipyard, Mr. Wilbur said his department would never use the boat for firefighting service, so it didn’t matter.

Mr. Wilbur responded, “I don’t believe this man [Mr. Frenzel] knows how we intend to use this boat. If the boat were going to tow for a living, I could see the elaborate equipment he is referring to. In twenty years of operations with our Parker, (a vessel in the harbormaster’s fleet] a broken line has never come any where near us.

Regarding Mr. Frenzel’s quote of a conversation he said Mr. Wilbur had with the shipyard, he wrote, “Of course, I never said that, and he can’t quote me, as I never spoke to him on the subject.”

No Texas hick

In a telephone conversation with The Times, Mr. Frenzel of Dixieland Marine Surveyors and Consultants in LaGrange, Texas, said the process was flawed at the beginning.

“They are using an RFP and calling it specifications. Specifications are details, and those things were sorely lacking in details,” he said.

“The town administrator, Mr. Bugbee, apparently the only guy he listens to is his harbormaster, who is a sailboater and obviously does not know anything about writing specifications for a boat of this type. It is pretty well obvious.”

Mr. Frenzel said he finds no fault with the boatbuilder, who, he says, is doing a beautiful job within the confines of the RFP and doing his best to please Mr. Wilbur.

He said Tisbury is using Homeland Security money to build a type of boat found in waterfront communities around the country and built with federal dollars, boats, he added that are readily available.

“They are a combination security, patrol and fire boats and yet you are not building it to the design of all these other boats,” he said.

“The firefighting system is totally inadequate for a boat of that size,” Mr. Frenzel said. “It’s a joke, and they are doing it to please Mr. Wilbur. He is the contact, he is the only man they have been talking to, and apparently Mr. Bugbee hasn’t a clue what is going on.”

Mr. Frenzel added, “The shipyard is doing their utmost to satisfy the harbormaster, without requiring written change orders. Hopefully things work out to the town’s benefit, and the boat meets all the requirements noted in their homeland Security Grant.”

Mr. Frenzel bristled at the notion that he is not qualified to give an assessment. He said he travels around the country surveying boats and has been called upon to be an expert witness.

“I’m not some hick from Texas. I’m a professional at this, and I know what I’m talking about.”