Tisbury selectmen and SSA agree to work on terminal traffic plan
The relationship between the Tisbury selectmen and the Steamship Authority (SSA) has been contentious for a while. Disagreements over whether the town or the boatline should pay for police traffic coverage at the Vineyard Haven terminal festered this summer, and an SSA proposal last month to shift some boats to Oak Bluffs provided the latest flash point.
On Friday both sides met to talk about issues of concern and smooth the waters of what had appeared to be a widening gulf.
This week, Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, said he thought the meeting with Tisbury town officials went well. He said he was pleased to see that town officials are open to considering all options, including exiting from the north side of the terminal facing Union Street.
He said the SSA would begin working with a consultant from The Cecil Group, a planning and design firm that has worked with the town and SSA on other projects, to come up with a proposal for the terminal area.
Prior to the meeting, Mr. Lamson had said he did not want to commit SSA planning resources if the selectmen were not willing to put everything on the table, including the use of the north side of the wharf for exiting vehicles.
Speaking at the Tuesday night meeting in Tisbury, selectmen Tristan Israel and Tom Pachico also spoke in positive terms about the Friday discussion with Mr. Lamson and Mark Rozum, SSA terminal director.
With only a few critical asides, Tisbury selectmen downplayed their grievances and disagreements Friday and said that they wanted to work cooperatively with the boatline on reconfiguring the terminal layout to improve the flow of traffic and pedestrians.
Mr. Lamson did not retreat from his recommendation to shift three boats to Oak Bluffs. Mr. Israel and Mr. Pachico, who is also Tisbury's port council representative, asked Mr. Lamson to reconsider the shift of a 7:30 pm boat, but Mr. Lamson offered no indication that the underpinnings of his recommendation had changed.
Henry Stevenson, a member of the Tisbury planning board, attended the 3:30 pm meeting held in the SSA Vineyard Haven terminal conference room. Mr. Stevenson had been invited to attend by Mr. Pachico, who said he thought the planning board needed to be involved.
Marc Hanover of Oak Bluffs, SSA Vineyard member and board chairman, said he did not attend the meeting because it was his understanding that the focus of the discussion would be traffic patterns in and around the Vineyard Haven terminal.
"I am not in this position to micromanage," said Mr. Hanover. "I thought it best to let management bring its recommendations back to the board and then I and the board can decide how to proceed. I did not think there was any reason to be there."
The meeting began with a statement by Mr. Israel that he hoped the meeting could be constructive and that all sides could "agree to disagree" on the issue of who should pay for police traffic details.
Mr. Israel then expressed his disappointment with Mr. Hanover for not attending the meeting and with the county commissioners for supporting the SSA in the dispute over the use of embarkation fee revenue for police coverage.
Selectman Ray LaPorte, chairman, said that the loss of SSA reimbursement for police services had not interrupted police coverage. Mr. Pachico added that police were often spread thin, and the presence of added officers likely would make not ease traffic congestion.
The selectmen disputed the notion that they had endorsed a policing policy that directed traffic officers only to pay attention to pedestrians and not vehicles exiting the terminal, or that they had eliminated police officers at Five-Corners.
"We are committed to do a better job," said Mr. Israel
Notwithstanding the selectmen's protestations, Mr. Lamson said that to the SSA there had appeared to be a change in policy or philosophy regarding traffic coverage following the decision to no longer reimburse Tisbury $40,000 or more for police detail services, once the town was receiving embarkation fee revenue.
Moving to the issue of schedules, Mr. Lamson described the reasons for the schedule changes proposed by management that will be on the agenda when the boatline board meets Thursday. He said in some cases four boats were arriving and departing all within 15 minutes of each other. The SSA's goal, he said, was to mitigate the congestion caused by the resulting arrivals and departures.
Mr. Pachico said he was concerned about the shift of a 7:30 pm passenger boat to Oak Bluffs, but that if the SSA wanted to send the 7:45 pm freight boat that was fine. He said commuters used that boat.
Mr. Lamson said that, according to SSA records for July and August, only two passengers per day traveled using a commuter book ticket, an indication that commuters did not heavily use that trip.
Returning to the subject of his unhappiness with the SSA for not meeting with the selectmen prior to any contemplated changes, Mr. Israel said that what the SSA was attempting was laudable but that there were better ways for the selectmen to learn about it. He said Mr. Hanover should have first met with the selectmen.
Raising another contentious issue, Mr. Pachico said he never thought Mr. Hanover had a conflict of interest, due to his business activities in Oak Bluffs, a charge first raised by Mr. LaPorte at a selectmen's meeting in connection with the schedule changes.
Mr. LaPorte offered, "The lack of communication makes you wonder."
The selectmen said they were happy to learn that the 7 am morning boat is not going to be moved, a proposal floated last month.
The one point on which all parties agreed was the need to look at the terminal layout and make agreed-upon improvements. Mr. Lamson admitted that the boatline shared some fault for previously saying it would put another person at the check-in booth to smooth the entry of vehicles and later deciding another person was not needed.
In response to a question from Mr. LaPorte, Mr. Lamson said the SSA would participate in a regional traffic planning effort by the Martha's Vineyard Commission. All agreed to look at the terminal layout as part of a greater planning effort participated in by the planning board.