SSA Proposal Shows New Bedford Plan

Boat Line Favors Whaling City Service Based on Long Season and Fast
Ferries Capable of Carrying Huge Volume

Gazette Senior Writer

Against a backdrop of internal maneuvers and with no concrete policy
directive from the board of governors, senior managers at the Steamship
Authority are now moving ahead to develop New Bedford as an expanded

A request for proposals (RFP) went out last week that could lead to
high-speed passenger ferry service between New Bedford and the Vineyard
as early as next summer.

Developed by boat line chief executive officer Fred C. Raskin and
general counsel Steven Sayers, the RFP sketches an unambiguous
"bigger is better" picture, with an eye toward possibly
contracting with a private operator to run more trips and bring more
passengers to the Vineyard through an extended summer season.

The RFP is unusual in that it marks the first time in recent memory
that the boat line has sent out an RFP with no prior discussion or vote
by the board.

"While we are hopeful that one submission will prove
irresistible, the RFP is also an attempt to get market
information," Mr. Raskin wrote in a memorandum to the board that
accompanied the RFP last week. The RFP does not specify high-speed ferry
service, but the requirements appear to be geared toward high-speed

In short form, the boat line is looking for bids from experienced
ferry operators to run passenger service between New Bedford and the
Vineyard, beginning either in 2003 or 2004. The terms sketched in the
RFP include a long-term license of eight years or more, with service
running between either Billy Woods Wharf or the State Pier in New
Bedford, and the port of Oak Bluffs. Use of the SSA pier in Oak Bluffs
is possible.

The RFP lists a series of evaluation criteria in three rating
categories: not advantageous, advantageous and highly advantageous.

Highly advantageous criteria include the ability of an operator to
carry more than 2,400 passengers a day in each direction and to run a
schedule of more than six trips a day. A startup date for next summer is
considered highly advantageous while a beginning date for the following
summer is considered not advantageous. The RFP also envisions an
expanded season from April 1 through Oct. 31.

The terms in the RFP appear to be in conflict with the go-slow
philosophy regarding New Bedford service outlined by Mr. Raskin and the
board in recent months.

"I caution against us rushing into anything. There are boats
everywhere," Mr. Raskin said two months ago when newly appointed
New Bedford governor David Oliveira pressed the board to take quick
action on a high-speed ferry proposal from Boston Harbor Cruises.

Also last month, the two Island governors blocked a proposal to
restart seasonal freight service between New Bedford and the Vineyard.

"As we develop New Bedford service, I feel it is more
important to do it right than to do it right now," said Vineyard
boat line governor Kathryn A. Roessel.

"I think it's important to plan and plan it well,"
said Nantucket governor Grace Grossman.

The RFP commits the boat line to a decision by mid-January, although
Mr. Raskin makes it clear in his memorandum that the final decision
rests with the board.

"Only the board can approve and authorize any new service,
whether provided by the Authority or some third party," Mr. Raskin
wrote. He also noted that the RFP will be evaluated alongside an
in-house analysis of freight service with no RFP.

Any new passenger service would replace the passenger ferry
Schamonchi. The boat line bought the Schamonchi from Janet Thompson in a
surprise move two years ago. The ferry lost more than $500,000 in its
first year of operation and more than $800,000 last year.

The Schamonchi currently runs three trips a day and a fourth trip on
Fridays from May through September. The ferry operates between Billy
Woods Wharf and the SSA terminal in Oak Bluffs, with a total daily
capacity of about 1,900 passengers.

The Schamonchi operates at well below capacity for most of the

There has been almost no public discussion on the Vineyard about the
impact of expanded high-speed passenger service between New Bedford and
the Vineyard. Former New Bedford city solicitor George Leontire and boat
line governor David Oliveira traveled to the Vineyard last month for
private discussions with Ms. Roessel about the New Bedford agenda.

Mr. Leontire, who is now a member of the boat line advisory port
council, showed Ms. Roessel the ambitious plan for redeveloping downtown
New Bedford he had unveiled in a traveling road show three years ago.
Among other things, the plan envisions a new $95 million oceanarium and
waterfront hotel complex. Mr. Leontire also repeated his assertion that
city planners want to continue to develop a working waterfront.

A Gazette reporter who attended the meeting was asked to leave by
Mr. Leontire and Mr. Oliveira.

The decision last week to put out an RFP without first consulting
the board comes during a period of strained relations between Mr. Raskin
and the board of governors. Mr. Raskin was hired as the first boat line
CEO last April.

Last month the board approved an amendment to Mr. Raskin's
contract that amounts to a six-month truce in the growing feud. The
amendment endorses the CEO model and outlines a six-month
"readjustment period" between Mr. Raskin and the board. Mr.
Raskin and the board both have an option to terminate the contract at
the end of six months. The board and Mr. Raskin also agreed to do a
midterm evaluation of their relationship at the end of three months.

Memorandums obtained by the Gazette this week reveal just how
brittle the relationship has become.

A draft memorandum of understanding developed by Mr. Raskin and his
attorney last August framed a tough, "hair trigger"
termination clause in Mr. Raskin's contract that would have
entitled him to half a year's severance pay within seven days if
he determined that board members were interfering in his job. The clause
was never adopted by the board.

More recently, as work went on behind the scenes on the contract
amendment that was adopted last month, Mr. Raskin sent a letter to Ms.
Roessel that singled out Mrs. Grossman as a chief enemy.

"I need some remedy during the term of the amendment should
board behavior deteriorate," Mr. Raskin wrote to Ms. Roessel.
"If Grace is outvoted, I am concerned she will use the
chairmanship to make life difficult (e.g. reading letters out loud at
board meetings, etc.)," he also wrote.

Mr. Raskin was away this week and could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Sayers, who also worked on the RFP, said it was developed with the
idea of trying to reduce traffic congestion on the Cape.

"I think the criteria reflect initial thoughts as to what
would be a successful service for the people," he said. "The
ability to carry more passengers will give us more flexibility as well.
If the service is going to grow, you have to demonstrate that you will
be able to handle a growth in the market. And I think the hope is that
good service from New Bedford will result in a migration of traffic from
Cape Cod to New Bedford - and that is one of the stated concerns
of the Steamship Authority, to try to reduce traffic congestion on the