More to talk about than fare hikes

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To the Editor:

There is much to be said about the Steamship Authority situation. This letter can only touch on a few issues.

On Tuesday, about 50 people attended the SSA meeting in Woods Hole, partly to address issues raised by a petition asking for a rate rollback, signed by almost 3,000 people, most of whom are from the Vineyard, with substantial numbers from Nantucket.

The authority continues to resist this action. At the meeting, the SSA said that sources tell them that oil prices will be back up to $75 a barrel in a year, and that they do not want to roll back rates for what may be a very temporary drop in oil prices.

Predicting the future is an iffy game, but the predictions of others familiar with the oil market contradict the SSA argument for a near-future return to high oil prices. J.P. Morgan sees significant oil market weakness, and expects oil to go below $40, with only a gradual return to $90, and that not until 2019. From Wednesday’s news we have: “Reuters — Oil fell as much as 5 percent on Tuesday after the International Monetary Fund cut its 2015 global economic forecast and key producer Iran hinted prices could drop to $25 a barrel without supportive OPEC action.”

The message from the SSA is that they’d really prefer to keep the fare-increase money. They can find plenty of ways to spend it. In their favor, some of those ways are probably necessary. But one of the main arguments for that increase has vaporized. Many Islanders are financially stressed already.

But in some ways the fare issue is just a sideshow, or even a red herring. The SSA’s terminal-rebuilding project in Woods Hole has a projected cost of about $62 million. That does not include $6 million for a new administrative office building. There are still no estimates for the cost of moving the maintenance department out of Woods Hole to a more distant location. That cost will also be in the millions of dollars.

Right now the Town of Falmouth has no SSA representative, and is voiceless. That town deserves to be heard. The SSA should have the courtesy to wait for Falmouth to give them a representative.

Meanwhile, on Martha’s Vineyard, the SSA has not bothered to give us a public presentation or even a defense of this expensive plan. None of the county commissioners I’ve spoken to have even seen the plans for this project, except for possibly a quick glimpse of the modest amount of information that’s been published in Island newspapers.

While it’s late in the process, there is still ample time for the SSA to put a halt to these plans, and to come up with better alternatives that are adequate, simple, and less expensive. They must then be willing to show all us us that what they propose is indeed a good and necessary thing. Until then they should not go further.

The ocean is not rising so fast that these expensive projects must be put on such a fast track.

There is more to say, but enough for now.

Thomas Hodgson

West Tisbury