At the 11th Hour Furcolo Brings the Suspense to End

But He Makes His Own Opinion Clear, Warns Legislature to Be Ready to Act if New Plan Fails to Work

How Deed Was Done

Long Persistent Effort Won a Large Majority in House and Senate for Island's Plight - History of the Measures

Governor [Foster] Furcolo signed the new Steamship Authority bill shortly before 2 p.m. on Tuesday.

Under the terms of the new law, the present Authority will be replaced Jan. 1, 1961, by a new Authority of three members, one of Dukes County - who have already persuaded Robert M. Love to accept the appointment - one named by the selectmen of Nantucket, and one by the selectmen of Falmouth. New Bedford will be responsible for 40 per cent of the deficit for 1960, but after the end of this year will have no responsibility, no representation, and no guarantee of service.

Governor Furcolo accompanied his signing of the measure by a statement of his position.

“The House and Senate by clear and decisive majorities have indicated their belief that a new Authority should be established,” he said. “A governor does not veto a bill simply because he himself might have voted against it as a legislator.

“In addition, the bill passed the House by a 3 to 1 majority and the Senate by about 4 to 1, demonstrating tremendous support for it.”

The governor pointed out that as to the possible question of constitutionality, the attorney general had considered the bill and had found that the only issue related to the interest of the bondholders.

“The attorney general has decided,” Governor Furcolo said, quoting the formal opinion, that “ ‘the General Court after hearing all the evidence has determined as a matter of economics at least that the right of any bondholders will not be impaired.’ “ He ended by quoting the attorney general’s conclusion that the legislation carried with it the presumption of constitutionality.

Governor Furcolo added that he believed the membership of the Authority should be appointed by the governor, and that an impartial chairman should be included.

“The present Authority as so constituted,” he said, “has done an outstanding job in cutting the deficit in half. I think the incoming governor and legislature should closely follow the workings of the new Authority and be prepared to take emergency action if the new plan does not work as well as expected, or if any additional question arises.” The affixing of Governor Furcolo’s signature brought to a close a period of anxious waiting on the two Islands during which a succession of delays prolonged an already almost unbearable suspense.

New Bedford legislators, city officials, and the board of commerce asked a chance to talk to the governor and to induce him to exercise his veto power. His response was to fix the hour of 11 on Monday morning at which three interested groups were to appear for a discussion: Sen. Edward C. Stone, Rep. Joseph A. Sylvia of the Vineyard, and Rep. Robert F. Mooney of Nantucket, representing the Islands; the members of the Steamship Authority itself; and an assortment of New Bedford speakers of the groups mentioned.

The Monday meeting lasted for two hours, and from the governor’s remarks at its conclusion, it was believed that he would sign the bill, possibly that afternoon.

Suspense Was Prolonged

The close of Monday’s legislative day came, however, and the suspense continued through the night and into Tuesday until in early afternoon the great break occurred. But before any of this final campaign of nerves, the Vineyard and Nantucket had mustered all their resources and had carried on without let-up for almost a full year a campaign of education and persuasion. The beginning of this may be set at August 28, 1959, when the late Edwin F. Chinlund called a meeting of interested citizens to consider the Island transportation problem.

The bill for the repeal of the compulsory New Bedford boat act, requiring daily year-round service for that city irrespective of traffic, cost or need, had been defeated for a second consecutive time by a narrow margin. The whole atmosphere was one of gloom and frustration.

But within a week Mr. Chinlund announced the formation of the Martha’s Vineyard Boat Line Committee, starting from scratch, and with the avowed aim of bringing the problem “into such an atmosphere that all men of good will can work for the same objective.”

The membership of the original committee was increased from time to time. On Nov. 13, 1959, the Jackson and Moreland report was made public. For the first time there was a complete objective and impartial report of an engineering study, made by a firm of the highest reputation and ability, as to what steps should be taken. The report, in the main, followed the principles along which most Islanders had been working, but it stated them in concrete terms and with authoritative language.

Essentially a Ferry Service

Service to the Islands, the Jackson and Moreland report said, is “essentially a ferry service rather than a steamship line operation, and should be equipped and operated as such. . . . Service to New Bedford cannot be justified by the needs of the Islands. This service should be eliminated and the New Bedford properties sold.” Dolly freight should be discontinued, and all freight should be handled on trucks.

This report gave the boat line committee and the Islands in general their working program. Mr. Chinlund continued as chairman of the committee as long as he was able, and was succeeded by Edward K. Simpson on Jan. 18, 1960. Mr. Simpson then carried on the long and arduous fight for a bill with a number that became a household symbol on the Vineyard - H.1213, the Sylvia-Mooney Bill, which had been introduced by Rep. Joseph A. Sylvia and Rep. Robert F. Mooney jointly, on a bipartisan basis, early in December.

The committee’s expert professional advisor was Charles B. Coates of New York, who had carried the first Hoover Commission report, against all sorts of odds, to the successful enactment of implementing legislation. The selection of Mr. Coates and the warmth and ability with which he espoused the cause of the Islands must be put down as among the most important factors in the eventual victory.

The legislative hearing on the Sylvia-Mooney bill was held before the committee on transportation at the statehouse on Feb. 24. Mr. Simpson presented a statement, and the Jackson and Moreland report was submitted in person by an engineer of that firm. Robert S. Backus of Nantucket told the committee that three of five members of the Authority supported the bill completely.

But the opposition of the familiar New Bedford pressure group took its usual course. Again the members of the New Bedford legislative delegation appeared to predict that if the bill should pass, the port of New Bedford would suffer immeasurably. Sen. Howard W. Young, representing the New Bedford district for the first time, threw himself into the fight against the bill on the ground that keeping the New Bedford terminal and its privileges and payroll contributed a large sum of money to the city. Senator Young’s father testified that he ran a motel and profited by Island travel.

Paul F. Glennon, chairman of the Authority and foe of the Islands, characterized the Jackson and Moreland report as “metric,” and declared that other than technical factors should prevail. He denounced “fractional thinking,” as on previous occasions, and insisted that if New Bedford wanted the boat line, it should have the boat line, if only through the weight of the larger numbers.

Notwithstanding this opposition the transportation committee brought in a favorable report on March 16. It was now up to Mr. Sylvia and Mr. Mooney to try to see it through the House. They had the continuing help and support of the boat line committee, the work of which had been extended under the name Citizens Boat Line Committee to include not only Nantucket but allies throughout the state. One of the fruits of the campaign was increasing support in the press until most major daily newspapers in the state Ñ with the conspicuous exception of New Bedford Ñ were advocating the bill.

Long Strike Intervened

The House ways and means committee reported unfavorably, and the boat strike introduced strong feelings and complications that might have compromised the chances of the bill. All through the long strike, there was no move in New Bedford to supply any emergency boat service. Not a boat ran to that city. Mr. Sylvia and Mr. Mooney relaxed not at all, and on June 6 the bill sailed through the House - despite the ways and means committee - by a vote of 149 to 71.

The history of the measure in the Senate is more recent and familiar. Everyone on the Islands knows how the opposition challenged and began to build on questions of constitutionality, and how Senator Stone redrafted the bill to envision all the objections and possible pitfalls that had been opened in the many months since it was first introduced last December.

The earlier background may be recounted briefly.

For many years the Island boat line had been owned and operated through the New England Steamship Co. by the New Haven Railroad. Following World War II, the line was sold to the Massachusetts Steamship Lines Inc., under which an important innovation was made Ñ the purchase of the old Hudson River ferryboat, Hackensack, which was renamed the Islander and put in service between Woods Hole and Vineyard Haven.

Established in 1948

The Authority was established by an act of 1948 “in order to provide adequate transportation of persons and necessaries of life for the Islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.” Operation under the Authority followed the existing pattern, but the old Islander was replaced as soon as possible by the new, diesel-powered ferry of that name.

Ferry service for the Vineyard became increasingly popular, and within a year or so the bulk of Vineyard traffic of all types was moving through Woods Hole. For some years the rates on the boats had shown no differential as between New Bedford and Woods Hole; in short, the run across Buzzards Bay was free.

Following a rate study by the firm of Coverdale & Colpitts, a differential was introduced, though, the report said, not enough to cover the added cost of the Buzzards Bay run. It was contemplated that a further readjustment would be made to take account of this cost factor, but it was never carried through.

New Bedford interests opposed the tariff changes both in proceedings before the D.P.U. and the Interstate Commerce Commission, and in both cases the new rates were upheld. The D.P.U. declared that the Authority was fully justified in favoring the type of operation represented by the Woods Hole ferry.

When the Authority attempted to curtail or eliminate New Bedford boat runs in the winter season when heavy losses occurred the city opposed every move with vigor. A case was carried to the state Supreme Court, which upheld the right of the Authority to suspend New Bedford service for as long as from September to April.

But New Bedford interests obtained the intervention of Governor [Christian A.] Herter - although he had been told by the Authority’s consulting engineers, Stone and Webster, that the winter service to New Bedford resulted in avoidable losses - and in only one winter, for a short period, was the New Bedford boat suspended. It could not be established whether the suspension saved money or not; any saving was unlikely, since longshoremen were shifted from New Bedford to Woods Hole for the period of the suspension.

Amendment of 1956

In 1956 New Bedford obtained an amendment to the Authority law, requiring daily year-round boat service to that city, and also the building of a ferry terminal there. A court fight on this amendment, on the grounds of constitutionality, was carried to the state supreme court by the county and the decision upheld the amendment.

In 1958 and again in 1959 the Islands attempted to obtain a repeal of the compulsory New Bedford boat law, and in 1959 the attempt nearly succeeded. It was in the wake of this defeat that the Chinlund committee was named.

Under the 1949 law, operating deficits were to be assessed as follows: MarthaÕs Vineyard, 50 per cent; Nantucket, 25 per cent; New Bedford, 15 per cent, and Falmouth, 10 per cent.

In 1958 only five per cent of the freight for the Vineyard and 26 per cent of the freight for Nantucket passed through New Bedford. Of the 410,000 passengers, only 15 per cent came through New Bedford.

Almost from the beginning, the operations of the Authority resulted in heavy losses. In the calendar year 1950 the loss was $16,977.33; 1951, $71,031.18; 1952, $85,238.17; 1953, $145,566.25; 1954, $109,190.22; 1955, $34,350.89; 1956, $111,918.03; 1957, $614,996.33; 1958, $346,018.67; 1959, $246,070.50.

The loss for 1960, due to the prolonged strike in addition to other factors, may be between $500,000 and $600,000.

There is no reliable estimate as to the economies that can be realized in 1961, since the study of Jackson and Moreland was predicated on the old labor contract, now superseded.