Moran further defends proposed SSA amendment

Steamship special counsel says legislation should have been discussed with Islanders before filing.

An amendment to the SSA Enabling Act proposed by State Senator Susan Moran, D-Falmouth, is building concern with Islanders who fear the bill would reduce their control over the lifeline service.

At a meeting of the Falmouth transportation management committee (TMC) Thursday, State Senator Susan Moran, D-Falmouth, doubled down on her proposed legislation that would strip the Vineyard and Nantucket of their supermajority voting powers on the Steamship Authority board.

Moran’s bill would require at least one mainland board member (Barnstable, Falmouth, or New Bedford) to support a vote for it to pass. If all three mainland board members failed to support a vote, a given item couldn’t pass. Presently the Vineyard and Nantucket combined have a supermajority voting bloc. The Islands’ votes are sufficient to pass or deny any given vote on the SSA board. 

Moran is the state senator representing the Plymouth and Barnstable senatorial district in the Massachusetts General Court. The district includes Falmouth and Sandwich, as well as towns in Plymouth County.

Moran said her bill would create a fairer system, so neither the Islands nor the mainland districts could unilaterally agree on a measure without reaching a compromise.

In response to concerns over Island communities being responsible for future operating deficits or other fiscal obligations, Moran said, “This legislation does not change the financial responsibilities or cost allocations of the towns.”

The proposed amendment to the SSA’s enabling act is creating consternation among Island representatives who worry that the amendment will reduce their control over the lifeline service.

While Martha’s Vineyard representatives are calling the proposed amendment divisive, Moran said the existing system that provides supermajority to the two Island communities makes it such that the mainland towns don’t feel they are being heard.

After serving on the Falmouth select board for a number of years, Moran said, she learned “very acutely” how difficult it is to even have discussions concerning the SSA when Nantucket and Dukes County can pass or defeat any motion put forward. 

“I’ve certainly experienced time and time again the divisiveness with the frustration of folks that the weighted vote left them powerless. Going forward, it’s a starting point to be able to have a real back-and-forth productive discourse,” Moran said. “My bill creates mechanisms to ensure conversation and compromise — it actually requires that we work together to create solutions that work for all.”

She added that as the replacement of both the Bourne and Sagamore bridges looms on the horizon, it is important for broad conversations to be had between mainland and Island communities that will both be greatly affected by the undertaking. 

While special counsel for the SSA Steve Sayers said he appreciates Moran’s sentiment, he expressed frustration that Island residents weren’t included in the initial conversation before filing the amendment.

He noted that while the bill may have good intentions, it “does not truly appreciate the reality of the Island situation.”

Since those who live in Dukes and Nantucket counties rely on the ferry service as their sole source of food, medical supplies, gasoline, heating oil, and most other goods, Sayers said, the Islands should have more voting power.

“Let’s say they decide that the mainland communities each should get a million dollars in reparations or subsidies from the Steamship Authority — they can pull together the three of them and stop all action by the authority, on any and every issue. On bond issues, on operating schedules,” Sayers said. “It’s scary to Islanders.”

Sayers quoted a 1953 ruling of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Barnstable, saying, “It is further apparent that steamboat service is vital to the economic survival of the islands at all seasons, but is not a matter of life or death to either Falmouth or [other mainland municipalities].”

Sayers said that if for any reason the mainland communities “hold the line” on a decision affecting the Islands, those communities will feel that “they are being held hostage.”

“They would be in a truly scary situation of having either completely disrupted service or inadequate service, even for a short period of time. It could literally be a matter of life or death,” he said.

Apart from reducing the voting power of the islands, Sayers said, a legislation change with such overarching implications for Dukes and Nantucket residents should have been discussed with those stakeholders prior to filing the amendment. 

TMC chair Ed DeWitt said Moran is Falmouth’s senator, and he believes it appropriate for her to broach the topic in this forum: “I think [Moran] is willing to talk to people from the islands about it. I think It’s a little unfair to say we didn’t invite people from the Vineyard — the Vineyard doesn’t normally invite us to their meetings.”

Moran said she encourages Islanders to reach out to her via email, and engage in public meetings related to the legislation, such as the TMC meeting. “This is an open meeting that folks are invited to; all the comments will be included in the record,” she said. “This is the conversation we are having now.”

Regarding Sayers’ position that the three mainland towns could make a deleterious decision to change the financial obligations of the islands, Moran said she doesn’t “see the math” that would allow for any kind of unilateral decision. “Right now, the mainland towns don’t feel like they are being listened to, so this is an effort to try and have more parity in those conversations going forward,” she said.


  1. Rep. Moran should live on MVY for a year and then see if she feels the same way about denying the Islands the current system. The most persistent complaint I think we’ve heard from the mainland communities is from the folks from Woods Hole Road concerning the trucks bringing supplies, necessary and otherwise, to the Vineyard. Ultimately let’s hope all the vehicles run on electric power. Until then, however, perhaps the SSA should seriously consider sending all the trucks to New Bedford, Hyannis or another community happy for the concomitant business. The sad truth is that Falmouth doesn’t need the trucks, but the Vineyard does. Maybe trucks should originate their ocean voyage from some other port.

    • Sara Crafts should live on Woods Hole Road for a year and then see if she feels the same way about the Islands the current system.

      • Thanks, Albert Hess; I already live on a street in Oak Bluffs which pretty much accommodates all the trucks that go to, through and around this town, at all hours. And my house is closer to the street than most of the Woods Hole Road homes. So I’m pretty much acquainted with truck noise. One gets used to it …

  2. Truck traffic has essentially no economic value to Woods Hole.
    Just road destruction and noise and air pollution.
    Woods Hole is too pretty for that, they belong in New Bedford.

  3. Mr Sayers says the Islanders depend on the(SSA) ferry service as their SOLE provider of……service. This is because SSA is a monopoly and uses its power to block other suppliers from providing essential services. SSA causes the problem and seeks legislative protection to perpetuate the problem.

  4. Wow the same old argument….. ppl in woodhole still think they are all that and so much better than everyone else….. attention please you bought ur house knowing full well that a ferry service was
    next to you…… grant it to many ppl Falmouth is considered the next step to Hyannis, so ppl really need to get off their high horse……. you bought ur house now live with it…… however if you bought ur house over a 100 years ago than you may have a grip, if not get over yourselves and find a better hobby that strokes your egos.

    • You bought your house knowing that all you have was brought to you through someone else’s back yard. You want to control how their back yard is used.

  5. The Steamship Authority funnels up to 600 trucks travel per day (!) through Woods Hole village on weekdays. If those trucks were stopped one behind the other, they would stretch from the Steamship Authority terminal for 1.8 miles to the Oyster Pond Road traffic light. As Albert Hess wrote above, those same trucks bring zero economic value to Woods Hole. They do bring significant levels of diesel soot, noise, and traffic congestion. Meanwhile we have an actual commercial port in the neighborhood whose SSA Board member Moira Tierney last week said at the SSA Board meeting: “New Bedford is very interested in a Steamship Authority presence.” Why not share the burden of Vineyard’s growing supply chain with a mainland commercial port who is interested in providing supplemental freight service to the Islands, rather than place the entire burden on Falmouth and Bourne residents and the Cape’s aging canal bridges?

  6. Studies show that the additional cost of goods on the Vineyard would not rise by more than one half of one percent if supplemental goods to the Vineyard were to come out of New Bedford. Why not more? A small increase in ferry transport costs for a whole freight truck has little bearing on the final consumer costs of the goods on that truck. Single trucks carry tens of thousands of dollars of goods. There is another important set of costs to consider. The vast majority of goods, including various forms of fuel, that go to the Vineyard right now pass right by New Bedford on I-195. The additional 43 miles (86 miles round trip) from New Bedford to Woods Hole create additional costs that the Steamship Authority passes on to all of us as “external” costs: Wear on all those trucks’ engines and brakes for those additional 86 road miles, additional wear and tear on Commonwealth highways, additional air emissions, including diesel soot, on residents’ health as trucks currently pass in the immediate proximity of residential neighborhoods, and additional traffic congestion for everyone coming over the bridge and even already over the bridge. Existing bulk shippers would have to adjust their current shipping schedules and driver arrangements, but they are up for the task. Falmouth residents propose the New Bedford route as a supplemental freight route, not an entire replacement of the supply chain through Woods Hole.

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