New SSA ferry delayed several months
Flint Ranney, Nantucket SSA member, wore a genuine snakeskin jacket to last week's boatline meeting much to the amusement of Bob O'Brien, Barnstable member (left), and Marc Hanover, Vineyard member. Photo by Gina Barboza
The Steamship Authority board last week approved a modest capital budget for 2006 and received an update on the delayed construction of the Island Home, the vessel that now is not expected to replace the Islander on the Vineyard route until sometime next fall.
Hurricane Katrina, one of the most destructive hurricanes ever to hit the United States, is responsible for the considerable delay. The category four hurricane came ashore just west of the VT Halter Marine shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi where the $31 million ferry is being built.
The ferry, which was expected to be ready in time for the 2006 summer season, is now expected to roll down the shipyard launch ramp on July 17 after which it will still require significant outfitting. The vessel is not expected to arrive in Vineyard waters until sometime in October.
Following up on the approval of the 2006 operating budget at the October monthly meeting, which included across the board rate hikes, the members last week approved a $340,000 capital budget. The money will be used for improvements to the terminal walkways meant to allow for easier embarkation and debarkation of passengers.
Next week SSA officials will meet with members of the Oak Bluffs conservation commission to discuss revised boatline plans for long-delayed improvements to the Oak Bluffs SSA terminal.
In the face of town and conservation commission opposition, the boatline dropped plans to create expanded parking and staging areas along Sea View Avenue by the north bluff and lease the old Oak Bluffs town hall for terminal space and restrooms. The SSA scaled back its plans and has now shifted its attention to the waterside.
The SSA plans to widen the dock in order to create two additional staging lanes and a new passenger walkway.
The SSA board also discussed requests from two private ferry operators who now carry passengers under licenses granted by the authority for an increase in the number of passengers they are allowed to carry.
The statutory licensing of the authority was put in place to prevent private operators from skimming profitable summer passenger service and leaving the boatline with no counterweight to off-season service deficits.
Hy-Line, which operates between Hyannis and Oak Bluffs and Hyannis and Nantucket, wants to increase the number of passenger it is licensed to carry aboard the Grey Lady, the high-speed catamaran on its Nantucket run.
Hy-Line is currently limited to 149 passengers. The company would like to increase that number to the Grey Lady's Coast Guard rated capacity of 298 passengers.
Hy-Line was the first company to provide high-speed service on the Nantucket run. The service proved to be popular and the SSA was forced to launch its own high-speed service in order to stem the flow of passengers from its slower conventional ferries.
The SSA's high-speed vessel, the Flying Cloud, has been prone to numerous mechanical problems from the start of service on the Nantucket route. The Flying Cloud is due to be repowered and the SSA has ordered a new high-speed ferry for the route. That vessel is expected to be delivered late next year.
Cape and Islands Transport, which operates the Pied Piper ferry between Falmouth and Edgartown, wants to increase passenger capacity and the number of trips the company is allowed to run.
A vote on both requests is expected next month. Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, said the boatline plans to invite public comment on the requests.
In comments following the meeting, Marc Hanover, SSA Vineyard member, said he is not in favor of anything that would shift business and profits away from the boatline.
"I am not going to give away any more business," said Mr. Hanover. He added, however, "If it is not going to affect us adversely, I have no issue with it."
The business meeting was brightened by the unexpected appearance of Flint Ranney, Nantucket SSA member, wearing a genuine sharkskin jacket rumored to have come from the Las Vegas wardrobe of Elvis Presley, or at least one of his many imitators. Although Mr. Ranney is known for his sharp wit, he normally appears at the SSA meetings conservatively dressed in a bow tie, blue blazer, and Nantucket red socks.
Mr. Ranney told his amused colleagues that John Stackpole, Nantucket town clerk, purchased the snakeskin jacket for $400 at the Nantucket Rotary Club scholarship auction on the condition that Mr. Ranney wear it at the next SSA meeting. "And I said okay," said Mr. Ranney.