A proposed amendment to the Steamship Authority’s Enabling Act by State Sen. Susan Moran, D-Falmouth, that would change the weighted votes for Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket on the SSA board was met with immediate and vocal opposition — and we need to keep those voices strong and united.
Moran’s bill aims to provide “parity” on the SSA board — giving the five member ports an equal vote at the table. Right now, both the Vineyard representative and the Nantucket representative have a supermajority with weighted votes of 35 percent each, which is important given just how much both islands rely on the SSA for transportation on and off the islands, and for goods and services to be delivered. It should also be pointed out that if the SSA runs a deficit, the island communities are responsible for making up the bulk of those costs.
Former SSA general counsel Steve Sayers made an excellent point when he criticized Moran for failing to consult the islands before filing her amendment. Taking away the supermajority would create a “scary situation” for the islands, Sayers said, which rely on the ferries as their primary source of food, medical supplies, fuel, and most other goods.
Moran’s proposed legislation fails to understand the reason behind the Enabling Act that established the SSA and its role as a lifeline for the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
While we sympathize with the traffic that creates in Woods Hole and Hyannis, it’s an essential service provided by the Steamship Authority.
It’s doubtful that Moran’s proposed amendment is going to go anywhere. Both state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, and state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, who represent both islands at the State House, issued a joint statement blasting Moran’s proposal.
“This bill would allow one Steamship Authority member to control the fate of the lifeline to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, while placing island communities in the precarious position to be responsible for future operating deficits,” they wrote in a joint statement. “Islanders should chart the course when it comes to their lifeline to the mainland. We are open to a thoughtful and collaborative conversation about the Steamship Authority, but after hearing from our constituents, we have deeply held concerns about this approach and cannot support it. Fortunately, there is a long tradition of deferring to the lawmakers who represent the islands on such matters. Legislation affecting Islanders cannot advance without our support, and thus this bill will not pass.”
Not only did Moran ignore getting the islands involved in the discussion, but she must have forgotten to include her colleagues on Beacon Hill. Perhaps we can chalk this up to political naiveté for the first-term senator. Or maybe she was just trying to placate a few vocal constituents, rather than actually finding a solution.
The SSA can and should do a better job of listening and communicating with residents of all port communities. We appreciate the interest Woods Hole residents have in seeking an alternative to the freight that goes through their port. Moran would be better served to work collaboratively with Cyr, Fernandes, and the other port communities of the SSA to explore the possibility of getting the state to fund repairs to the state pier in New Bedford, which remains a stumbling block to establishing freight service from New Bedford to the Vineyard.
Moran told our reporter that the goal of her legislation is to “ensure conversation and compromise.”
Robert Jones, who represents Barnstable on the board, and who would see his own vote become more powerful under Moran’s bill, put it best: “I think legislation like that only serves to tear us apart. That’s just not going to serve any good purpose except for perhaps to alienate neighbors.”
Perhaps she was just trying to get our attention. Well, Sen. Moran, you have it. Now what?