Islanders Lambaste New Bedford Plan

Seabulk Proposal for Private Freight Service to Vineyard and Nantucket Meets with Forceful Opposition


Vineyard residents spoke out last night against a proposal by a private hauler to run year-round ferry service between New Bedford and the Islands, calling the plan ill-conceived and one more burden on the port of Vineyard Haven.

"I strongly object to this proposal because Vineyard Haven doesn't want to see any more freight traffic. Vineyard Haven takes the impact, Vineyard Haven takes the trash. I've been told that the Woods Hole Road is a little winding country road. Well, what are we, Route 128?" declared Marie Laursen, a Tisbury resident.

"The Steamship Authority should say no to this," said Jay Gallagher, an Aquinnah resident and SSA employee.

"The mayor and the city solicitor in New Bedford want to run this route, let's cut to the chase here," said Tisbury selectman Tom Pachico.

The remarks came during a public hearing on the license application by Seabulk Inc. to run ferry service between New Bedford and the Islands. Formerly known as Hvide Marine Inc., Seabulk is the same company that presently operates the pilot freight program between New Bedford and the Vineyard. The SSA is paying the company $1.6 million to run the program this year.

The new license request from Seabulk calls for launching a startup ferry service between New Bedford and both Islands after the completion of the pilot program at the end of this year. Seabulk wants to run three trips a day to the Vineyard and two trips a day to Nantucket.

Although the license request is chiefly for carrying freight, the company also wants to backhaul cars from the two Islands to New Bedford on a standby basis, and it wants the right to carry passengers and cars in both directions if the SSA will not agree to force some 8,000 trucks to use the private freight service. Seabulk has said it will charge fares no more than 10 per cent higher than SSA fares. The company projects a $300,000 operating profit, but the numbers are still under review. Seabulk also wants to use the SSA facilities for $1 a year.

The dollar-a-year plan drew sharp comments.

"I have some concern if they want to use the Steamship Authority facilities for the princely sum of one dollar," said Oak Bluffs resident Rachel Vanderhoop.

Held in the Oak Bluffs School, last night's was the last of five public hearings on the license application. The hearing started a half an hour late because SSA organizers had failed to acquire the key to the school. The session was also unusual in that both the chief spokesman for the applicant and the boat line board of governors were absent. The hearing was conducted by SSA general counsel Steven Sayers, who acted as a sort of one-man band, presenting and explaining the Seabulk application, explaining the SSA process and fielding questions. Vineyard SSA governor J.B. Riggs Parker sat in the audience. Barry Fuller, a captain who operates one of the Seabulk ferries, also sat in the audience on behalf of Seabulk. Mr. Fuller is the former general manager of the boat line.

About 20 people attended the hearing, several of them SSA employees. Several Tisbury residents also attended, and the impact on the town of Tisbury from the SSA was a predominant theme.

"Vineyard Haven will be a party to this or we are going to war. It's that simple," Mr. Pachico said.

At the outset there were many questions about the details of the application. Among other things, Tisbury town officials said the application may come under the new district of critical planning concern (DCPC) regulations for the Tisbury harbor.

Mr. Sayers conceded that the application is accompanied by many questionable assumptions, all of which are under review by SSA staff.

The Seabulk application is opposed by all five unions representing SSA employees, and a handful of spokesmen were present last night.

"We think the mission of the Steamship Authority is being betrayed," said Mr. Gallagher, a member of the union that represents some 300 unlicensed crew members on SSA vessels.

New Bedford city solicitor George Leontire's name came up frequently during the hearing. Mr. Sayers told the group that the Seabulk application had in fact been written by Mr. Leontire.

Later in the hearing Mr. Pachico announced that he and Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel had met with Mr. Leontire in New Bedford on Wednesday. Mr. Pachico also said that the Vineyard SSA governor had met with Mr. Leontire one day earlier. Mr. Pachico questioned Mr. Parker about whether Mr. Leontire had offered to have the city buy a ferry and build a terminal facility for the SSA. "He said he offered that to Mr. Parker," Mr. Pachico said. "The check's in the mail," Mr. Parker replied. "Tuesday at 3:30 p.m., Leontire said he made the offer," Mr. Pachico repeated.

"I'm sorry, I wasn't at your meeting," Mr. Parker said.

"Nor were we at yours, obviously," Mr. Pachico returned.

The boat line board of governors will vote on the Seabulk license request on April 27.