Steamship Authority attorney Steven Sayers at the Falmouth Transportation Management Committee last week criticized Senator Susan Moran’s proposed amendment to the enabling act of the Steamship Authority. This amendment would provide balance in the voting structure of the Steamship Authority board by requiring at least one of the three port communities—Falmouth, Barnstable and New Bedford—to join Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket in any vote on Steamship policy. It seeks no more than to promote negotiation and consensus in a system that now gives the islands an absolute veto on all decisions made by the Authority.
Mr. Sayers described the presumed dire fate of island residents in 2021, in his view, if the Moran amendment were to pass at the State House: “They [islanders] 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, citing a 1953 decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Court.
It is simply a gross exaggeration to suggest that any of the port towns would take actions that would jeopardize the lives or safety of island residents. Current debates do not involve any proposals to suspend overall ferry service or cut off the lifeline. They focus on three things—eliminating or modifying the 5:30 AM trip, shifting freight and refuse transport to New Bedford, and reducing the environmental and infrastructure damages now inflicted on Falmouth and Bourne by Vineyard truck traffic over roads and bridges.
A network of public and private transportation and public safety services exists for the island in 2021 that did not exist in 1953. These include the airport, private ferry services, the US Coast Guard and, of course, the Steamship Authority.
It is unfair to suggest that Falmouth or the other port towns would act in bad faith to cause “disrupted service or inadequate service.” From the earliest years of the Enabling Act, Falmouth has acted responsibly in all of its proposals for change in Authority operations. It is simply fearmongering to suggest that a change in voting will jeopardize the health or safety of island residents. And it is misleading to argue, as some have, that the new voting structure will change the financial exposure of the islands for future deficits of the Authority.
Mr. Sayers refuses to recognize that no community is held hostage when the interests of all affected cities and towns are fairly considered in policy decisions. If the Authority was even vaguely responsive to the requests for changes in the 5:30 AM schedule out of Woods Hole, or the pleas for shifting freight traffic to New Bedford, the Moran amendment would not be necessary.
William C. Hallstein