Against a backdrop of growing concern about the direction of the Steamship Authority and also about a new alliance between the Vineyard SSA governor and the mainland port communities, an emerging grass roots citizens group on the Island has issued a call to reunite Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket on boat line issues.
"We want to make sure that the focus is on the two Islands and that they are staying together. It is pretty clear that the needs of the Islands are not being addressed, and that they are being ignored in favor of a much broader marketing target," said Nora Nevin, a Vineyard Haven resident.
Mrs. Nevin is a member of a newly formed group called Islands United. Among other things, she said, the group is concerned about the growing rift between the Vineyard and Nantucket on Steamship Authority matters - and also the new push by the boat line to step up the marketing of the Vineyard.
"We now have a Falmouth, New Bedford, Martha's Vineyard coalition going, and there seems to be a marketing ploy behind it - the idea is to get more people here and to get them here faster," Mrs. Nevin said. "The Steamship Authority was created for the Islands, and our needs don't seem to be uppermost in anybody's mind at this point. It's Nantucket and the Vineyard that pay the bills, and we can't be enticed by someone else who wants to cash in on it," she added.
Islands United had its first meeting last week and a second meeting is planned for Tuesday afternoon next week. Mrs. Nevin called the new group exploratory and she said all people who are concerned about the direction of the boat line are encouraged to join.
"This is for anybody who is concerned with the direction and speed of the Steamship Authority," Mrs. Nevin said. "People are very worried right now about the impact on the Islands. The economic issues are huge and are not being recognized."
Mrs. Nevin said anyone who wants to attend the next meeting of Islands United should call her at 508-693-7318.
In a related move, Tisbury resident Cora Medeiros said yesterday she plans to launch a petition drive opposing both the recent legislation filed by Gov. Jane Swift to expand the Steamship Authority board of governors, and also the recent boat line application for federal grant money to build a new high-speed passenger ferry for the New Bedford Vineyard run.
The Swift legislation was filed last month and is crafted out of the recent report from the governor's ferry task force. The legislation recommends expanding the SSA board of governors by adding voting members from Barnstable and New Bedford.
The state joint committee on transportation will hold a public hearing on the proposed legislation in Barnstable next Thursday morning.
"We don't want this bill. New Bedford shouldn't have a vote until they are a port," Mrs. Medeiros said. She said she supports a voting seat for Barnstable.
Mrs. Medeiros also deplored the recent move by the boat line to apply for $2 million in federal grant money toward the construction of a new high-speed passenger ferry to replace the Schamonchi.
"We are urging Senators [Edward M] Kennedy and [John] Kerry to veto the request for $2 million. If they don't get the money, then they can't build a high-speed ferry. And we don't want a high-speed ferry," Mrs. Medeiros said.
Mrs. Medeiros said she plans to have a table set up at the Tisbury Street Fair on Sunday with petitions for people to sign.
Meanwhile, elected officials on the Vineyard also recently launched a new effort to unite the Vineyard and Nantucket on Steamship Authority issues.
A special summit meeting is now planned for July 18 between the Dukes County Selectmen's Association and the Nantucket selectmen. Also joining the summit will be Cape and Islands Rep. Eric T. Turkington. Mr. Turkington is a member of the joint transportation committee and has been an advocate for the two Islands during the ongoing debate over Steamship Authority affairs on Beacon Hill for the last two years.
"I can bring some of the history of the last year's events as they transpired on Beacon Hill and my perspective on how we ended up, and where we are now," Mr. Turkington said. "I am not coming in to tell anyone how to run a boat line, but I guess what concerns me is that the boat line is a public entity, and it has to listen to the public that it serves and do what they want," he added.
On Monday, July 16, the Vineyard selectmen's association will hold a special meeting to discuss its own position on Steamship Authority issues. That meeting will begin at 7:45 p.m. in the Tisbury Senior Center. The Vineyard and Nantucket summit will be held on Wednesday, July 18, at 5:30 p.m. at the Howes House in West Tisbury.
"We have to kind of be all on the same page - we are the two Islands and we have to find common ground for the future," said Arthur Smadbeck, an Edgartown selectman who is chairman of the selectmen's association.