SSA Forum Gives Voice to Public

A public forum to hear Vineyard residents' ideas and questions on Steamship Authority issues will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 23. The forum opens at 7 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, and is expected to last two hours.

The forum moderator will be Pat Gregory, West Tisbury's town moderator. There will be no panel of presenters and no speeches by anyone other than the moderator, who will set the rules of engagement for the gathering. All questions and comments will be limited in length by the moderator.

"This forum will be political in the original sense," said Chilmark selectman Warren Doty, a co-sponsor. "It is the people who will be speaking, not factions or officials or partisans. The event is provided exclusively for the residents of Martha's Vineyard to ask questions, air their views and hear from their fellow citizens."

While any member of the public is welcome, questions and comments will be limited to citizens of Martha's Vineyard. Members of the state legislature, including Rep. Eric T. Turkington and Sen. Robert O'Leary, will be present, along with a few Steamship Authority executives, to answer questions posed to them.

According to Nora Nevin, a key participant in the Lifeline Coalition and one of the forum sponsors, "The issues for public comment include the array of concerns that have been the focus of the media and the community for several months." Issues which are expected to surface include the following:

* Should Barnstable have a voting seat on the SSA board?

* Should New Bedford have a seat on the SSA board? If so, at what point should it become a voting seat?

* How important is the three-port balance of power?

* Should Martha's Vineyard continue to be responsible for a larger percentage of future deficits than the other ports?

* How committed is the Vineyard to relieving traffic in Falmouth and Woods Hole?

* Do we want a summer-only, passenger-only fast boat from New Bedford?

* Do we wish to encourage automobile traffic from New Bedford in order to reduce the Island's share of automobile traffic in Woods Hole?

* Should the way the Vineyard member of the SSA board is elected be changed?

* What role should the ports of Tisbury and Oak Bluffs have in matters affecting their harbors?

* Under the varied SSA board make-ups currently being considered, what potential financial liability can the Vineyard expect?

"This is a unique and important opportunity for elected officials to hear from the Vineyard community on these critical issues," said county commissioner Robert Sawyer, a co-sponsor. "We have structured this forum for Vineyard constituents to speak out on SSA issues that are so vital to our day-to-day life and, I might add, our pocketbook.

"The real questions to be answered by the public at this forum," said Mr. Sawyer, "are, what messages do we want to send to the state legislature? Be assured they will be watching and listening to what this community has to say."