The Steamship Authority's (SSA) Fairhaven waterfront maintenance facility on New Bedford Harbor is intended to provide a safe refuge in the event of a hurricane as well as a full service upkeep site for SSA vessels. But, state inaction has delayed funding needed to make the pier at the Fairhaven facility usable.
The Seaport Advisory Council, a state government council that advises the governor about seaport policy and coordinates seaport development activities in the Commonwealth, has yet to act on the funding needed to complete dredging as part of a New Bedford/Fairhaven harbor redevelopment project.
Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray is council chairman. He has yet to respond to a letter from Steamship Authority general manager Wayne Lamson, dated Sept. 26, 2007, describing the boatline's need for quick state action so that dredging can proceed.
If the council does not act when it meets tomorrow, it will likely not take up the request until March.
The timing is critical because failure to act will mean the Fairhaven facility will not be available for 2008 summer and fall maintenance, nor next year's hurricane season. The Steamship Authority would need to maintain a temporary facility in Fall River Harbor.
Tomorrow, Mr. Lamson is to attend the December seaport council meeting and make his appeal directly.
Late yesterday, a spokesman for Lt. Gov. Murray told The Times the council will not act until March on the harbor dredging project.
Mr. Lamson described the Steamship Authority's predicament to boatline members at the last monthly business meeting of the authority in 2007, held Tuesday in Woods Hole.
In keeping with the spirit of the holiday season, the meeting was brief and generally filled with good cheer. The board needed one hour to get through the agenda.
The members heard reports, elected officers, approved a 2008 capital budget and agreed to amend the licensing agreement for the New England Fast Ferry that runs between the Vineyard and New Bedford.
In keeping with the legislatively imposed blueprint that gave New Bedford a seat on the board, Nantucket member Flint Ranney was unanimously elected chairman.
Vineyard Steamship Authority member Marc Hanover of Oak Bluffs was elected secretary. Mr. Hanover's three-year term ends this month. He said he plans to seek reappointment from the Dukes County commissioners, who are expected to act on a slate of county appointments when they meet on Jan. 9.
The meeting included a report on capital projects. Carl Walker, director of engineering, described some of the obstacles workers have encountered in the Fairhaven dock project, including the discovery of wood dock remnants dating to1860.
That prompted a discussion of the lack of action by the seaport council. Bob Marshall, Falmouth Steamship Authority member, asked Mr. Lamson if council members understood the ramifications of a delay and suggested the SSA ask Rep. Eric Turkington for his assistance.
As if on cue, Mr. Turkington, a Falmouth resident, just happened to walk into the meeting. After listening to a description of the problem and a request for his help, he assured the members, "We will pursue that, absolutely."
The members unanimously approved the 2008 capital budget, totaling $3.3 million. These include the first phase of the reconstruction of the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority pier, the purchase of two new shuttle buses and electronic ticketing platforms.
The members voted unanimously to allow New England Fast Ferry to end its weekend winter high-speed passenger service and reduce weekday service to two round-trips per day, effective Jan. 1.
Mr. Oliveira said that summer service remained popular. He said it was no surprise that winter service was not, and he took the opportunity to remind the members that the request for winter service originated on the Vineyard and not with the city of New Bedford.
Mr. Oliveira had in mind the fact that at the time that the Steamship Authority issued a request for proposals for fast-ferry service between the Vineyard and New Bedford, then Vineyard member Kathryn Roessel made winter service a high priority despite skepticism from ferry operators and Vineyard officials regarding the probable off-season demand.
Mr. Marshall asked fast-ferry company vice-chairman Andrew Langlois, who attended the meeting, to continue a conversation regarding a Woods Hole stop on its summer route. Mr. Langlois said the company would look at the economics.
Bob Huss, Oak Bluffs port council member and chairman, reported that the port council disagreed with a vote by the members to set a different travel policy for current and former Steamship Authority members, finance advisory board and port council members. He said privileges, including free travel, should be the same for everyone and end with a member's term.
At the conclusion of Tuesday's meeting, outgoing Steamship Authority chairman David Oliviera of New Bedford described the board's accomplishments in 2007. Those included two new vessels on line, improvements to the web site, enhanced customer service and an advertising policy. He said that the authority as a whole is listening to the ratepayers.
"Thank you all very much," said Mr. Oliviera. "I enjoyed serving as chairman."
Mr. Ranney followed up with one of his signature humorous comments. It provided one measure of how far the relationship among board members has progressed from the time when rancorous debates over New Bedford service and fast ferries sliced through the political waters that separated the port communities.
"I would like to say that David has made me rethink my former antipathy to New Bedford," said the bow-tied Nantucketer to laughter.