Three candidates seek SSA post

A Carroll’s trucker and a Chilmark selectman are in contention against Hanover.

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Two Islanders are challenging Marc Hanover to become the Vineyard's representative on the Steamship Authority board. - Rich Saltzberg

Updated Jan. 17

Marc Hanover, the Vineyard’s longtime representative on the Steamship Authority board, is up for reappointment and has competition. The Dukes County commissioners choose who represents the Vineyard on the SSA board. At their meeting Wednesday afternoon, the commissioners announced they would schedule interviews for both the airport commission and the Steamship Authority. Carroll’s truck driver Michael Lyons and Chilmark selectman Jim Malkin have submitted resumes for consideration by the commission for the SSA board. 

Hanover, who assumed the 2020 chairmanship of the board, is an Oak Bluffs restaurateur. On the board for 15 years and on the port council for two years, he is deeply versed in the complexities of the SSA. In the wake of more than 500 ferry breakdowns and cancellations in 2018, he pushed for an independent consultant to evaluate the ferry line. 

Lyons sees the SSA from a different perspective than most. As a trucker for Carroll’s, he crosses Vineyard Sound daily and understands ferry freight operations from firsthand experience. He has extensive training in general and heavy mechanics, including diesel engines, generator sets, and hydraulics. 

Malkin is a retired national and international business executive with expertise in helping troubled businesses. He’s an experienced Caribbean and New England mariner and ran a large trucking company. On behalf of employers, he chaired a union negotiations committee and also led an employer’s arbitration panel. 

Hanover told The Times he’s “very involved” in the SSA and whoever seeks a position on the board ought to be familiar with the ferry line and should attend board meetings and port council meetings. 

“It’s not for the faint of heart,” he said. “The Steamship Authority is in the middle of a huge transition and I can’t imagine somebody just walking in there.”

Hanover said knowing what to expect is key to being on the board. He pointed to his predecessor, the late Kathryn “Cassie” Roussel of Tisbury. 

“She was appointed and never really grasped what was going on,” he said. 

Lyons said he’s not seeking a seat on the board because he necessarily has a problem with Hanover’s performance. “I just figured I’d throw my name in the hat and see what happens,” he said. “Sometimes a new deal is a good thing.”

Malkin had no criticism of Hanover either. “I am not running against Hanover,” he said. For a number of years, he said folks have asked him to run. “If the commissioners want me, I’m happy to serve,” he said.

In an effort to gauge their positions, The Times asked the incumbent and two new candidates the same four questions.

Should the SSA establish a fast ferry on the Vineyard route?

Malkin said he needed more data. “I don’t know whether the economics would work,” he said. Whatever the vessel, he said reliability was paramount.

Lyons too wanted more information. “It did seem to work when we had it,” he said. “I’d like to see the numbers.”

Hanover found the idea problematic and wasn’t for it. “It would take paying passengers off the big boats,” he said. In doing so, he said it would disrupt the economic balance of vehicles and passengers.

Should the SSA resurrect its New Bedford terminal?

“I don’t think it’s really practical for trucks overall,” Lyons said. He said he thought perhaps a couple runs per day might be possible, but he’d “need to see the numbers” before he could back such an idea. 

“Not for the big boats, no,” Hanover said. He estimated SeaStreak, a private carrier authorized by the SSA, transports 77,000 people annually to and from New Bedford and the SSA gets a cut. Putting that in jeopardy would need to be reasoned, he said. “I think it totally makes sense for freight,” he said. 

And by freight he emphasized bulk cargo like stone, rubbish, and perhaps building materials. “We need to keep the big boats profitable. It would have to be done very cautiously—probably makes sense to license someone to do it,” he said. 

“I don’t know what the economics would be on that,” Malkin said. “It would seem on the surface to be expensive to run out of New Bedford.”

What would one priority be for you to address if appointed to the board?

For Malkin, ensuring a strong management process is in place. “This is all about management,” Malkin said. “Identifying what you need to do, measuring whether it’s being done, [and] holding people accountable to get it done” are hallmarks of such a process he said. “I would hope that the skills that I have in business process would help make management more effective in terms of running a consistent and reliable service at a fair price,” he said.

For Lyons, a rejiggering of Oak Bluffs summer freight schedules needs doing. He said sending freight boats to the Oak Bluffs terminal creates a real headache for truckers. In the summer, many have to wait around in Woods Hole because they are too heavy for the the Oak Bluffs terminal, which he said has an 80,000 pound weight limit. Many trucks that carry gravel and lumber and sometimes general freight weigh up to 100,000 pounds, he said. When he spoke with The Times from Woods Hole prior to boarding the MV Martha’s Vineyard Thursday afternoon, he was at the wheel of a 100,000 pound truck. 

For Hanover, an SSA website overhaul is in order. “I would like to update the website,” he said. “That definitely needs work.”

How would you maximize the chairmanship if appointed?

The chairmanship of the Steamship Authority changes on a set rotation. For 2020, the Vineyard holds the seat. “If someone else besides Hanover is appointed, that individual would become chairman by statute immediately,” SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll said.

For the Vineyard and Nantucket, holding the chairmanship doesn’t confer the leverage it might seem to, Hanover said. Because the two islands each have votes weighted at 35%, they already have clout above the three other port communities, said. The chairmanship therefore lends more power to Hyannis, Falmouth, or New Bedford, he said.

The chairmanship is “just more work, actually,” he said. 

Lyons said he was unaware the Vineyard had the chairmanship this year. “It all depends on what comes and how things play out,” he said. 

Malkin said he would approach the role with his aforementioned goal of helping “create a reliable and consistent service at the right price.”

He also said he’s learned from his time as a selectman that patience and consensus are keys to effectiveness.

The county commissioners have slated interviews for Feb. 5 and Feb. 19. Anyone who wishes to submit a resume for SSA board consideration, must do so by Jan. 31.

Speaking drolly, Hanover said when he first took the position “the notice said ‘may require off Island travel’.” He verified that. “It requires a lot of off-Island travel and a lot of personal time,” he said. 

Updated with corrected and additional information about the chairmanship and additional information from the Dukes County Commission.