Boatline Enters Wind Dispute

SSA Will Contact Political Leaders to Express Serious Concerns About Sea Safety and Threats Posed by Wind Farm Plan

Gazette Senior Writer

Steamship Authority governors will add their collective voice to the growing list of groups now logging in with an array of concerns about a giant wind farm that has been proposed for Nantucket Sound.

"After a long career in the Coast Guard I can tell you this for certain - if something can happen it will happen. And if you place an obstruction like this out there on the water, there is a much greater opportunity for something to happen," said Barnstable SSA governor Robert O'Brien.

"This has the potential to pose a hazard to safe navigation, and we would be remiss if we just sat here and ignored it. We need to be sure that someone takes a serious look at it."

The comments came during the monthly boat line meeting held in Woods Hole last week.

Cape Wind Associates, a private business consortium, wants to build 170 wind turbines in a 28-square-mile section of Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound.

At the meeting, Mr. O'Brien passed around an illustration depicting the location of the proposed wind farm on a chart of Nantucket Sound. The illustration shows the distance in nautical miles to Nantucket, Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard. The Barnstable governor made a formal motion to direct management to draft a letter to send to officials including Sen. John Kerry, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and Rep. William Delahunt, raising concerns about the possible threat to safe navigation.

The proposed location for the wind farm is outside Steamship Authority shipping lanes, but two SSA captains and Hy-Line Cruises owner Murray Scudder agreed last week that the threat to safe navigation is nonetheless real.

"I concur with Bob that if something can happen, it will," said Mr. Scudder. "I believe this needs to be seriously looked at - especially with the advent of high-speed travel. If something happened out there and you had people in the water, a search and rescue effort could become very difficult."

The Hy-Line owner said the location for the wind farm is well within an area where the ferries are often routed because of weather or other factors. "It could get awfully crowded out there," Mr. Scudder said.

Two boat line captains who attended the meeting agreed.

"I have followed this in the newspaper, but I didn't have an accurate sense of the scope until I saw this," said Capt. Bruce Malenfant, referring to the illustration circulated by Mr. O'Brien. "I am horrified, and I think it's quite a dangerous recipe they are concocting."

Capt. James Lodge echoed many of the same concerns, also noting that the area of the proposed wind farm is near the route used by the Steamship Authority for the seasonal inter-Island ferry service between the Vineyard and Nantucket.

Boat line governors voted unanimously to send the letter.

The Cape Wind project also has been criticized by local airline pilots who are worried about interference from the 426-foot-tall turbines planned as part of the project.

In other business last week, SSA chief executive officer Fred C. Raskin said traffic on boat line ferries declined noticeably during the fall, especially in the month of November, when overall traffic was down 10 per cent from last year. He said much of the drop can be traced to poor weather and a series of attendant cancellations, especially on the Nantucket run.

"The weather turned sharply against us," Mr. Raskin said during a regular monthly summary of business operations. The drop in traffic has had some impact on revenues, although Mr. Raskin noted that with $27 million in cash, the boat line balance sheet remains extremely strong.

"We are concerned about the inherent traffic levels and will need to take a look at it for next year. . . . This is only a gut reaction, but I get the feeling that traffic has trailed off, even without regard to the weather. It may the economy; it may be other issues, but I do feel there is a weakness in traffic levels," he said.

The slowdown in traffic and revenues comes at an unusual juncture for the public boat line, which was recently restructured following an act of the legislature this spring that ordered the expansion of the board to include New Bedford. New Bedford city officials continue to push for expanded boat line service out of the Whaling City, but it is still unclear what form that service will take.

Nantucket governor Grace Grossman asked Mr. Raskin to take another look at barging as an adjunct to hauling freight and hazardous materials between the two Islands and the mainland.

Mr. Raskin, who ran a barge company for many years, agreed that it is a good subject for study.

"I am a barging guy and I think barging is the cheapest and greatest way to haul freight, and there are some real advantages," he said.

Vineyard boat line governor Kathryn A. Roessel said cost is a key factor. "On the issue of New Bedford service, I remain focused on economic justice," she said.

It was the final meeting for Falmouth boat line governor and board chairman Galen Robbins, who drew a round of applause and a number of accolades for his service to the board.

"Your independent thinking as well as your financial sophistication have been a breath of fresh air to this board," said Nantucket governor Grace Grossman.

"Thank you for doing a thankless job," said New Bedford governor David Oliveira.

"I want to join the chorus here. . . . This position is a lightning rod for politics. All the boat line board members have taken abuse, and you more than most," said Cape and Islands Rep. Eric T. Turkington, who attended the meeting.

Mr. Robbins was appointed last year to fill the unexpired term of Edward DeWitt, who resigned midway through his first term. Mr. Robbins quickly fell out of favor with the Falmouth selectmen, who are his appointing authority, because he refused to endorse a hasty and financially risky plan to develop high-speed ferry service between New Bedford and the Vineyard.

Mr. Robbins later led a move to underwrite a plan for both freight service and a pilot high-speed program between New Bedford and the Vineyard. But New Bedford city officials pulled the plug on the plan amid a storm of politics on Beacon Hill and on the Vineyard.

Last summer the Falmouth selectmen took steps to remove Mr. Robbins, but the 37-year-old Falmouth governor fought back, filing a lawsuit against the selectmen in federal court. He claimed first amendment violations. The selectmen backed off after a federal judge made it clear that the town would be likely to lose in court. Meanwhile, the clock had nearly run down on Mr. Robbins's term.

There are now three candidates for the post. Falmouth selectmen will make their selectmen in early January, before the next scheduled boat line meeting.