Boatline Meets Amid Turmoil
SSA Board Meets for First Time Since Nantucket's Decision to Explore Secession from Authority
By JULIA WELLS
Gazette Senior Writer
Steamship Authority news has been dominated by power and politics in recent weeks, but when the boat line board of governors convenes for its monthly meeting this Thursday morning, much of the discussion is expected to center on rules - new rules for dogs, old rules for excursion travel and some rules that are top secret in the name of national security.
The February SSA meeting begins at 9:30 a.m. in the Candle Room at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole.
It marks the first board meeting since the people of Nantucket voted two weeks ago to launch a formal study aimed at possibly developing an independent boat line for their island.
Tensions are running high, with SSA governors exchanging barbed remarks in the local and regional print press, and friction over the growing rift with Nantucket is expected to color the meeting this week.
New business on deck includes a freshly drafted set of security measures for ferries, including a rule that will bar people from staying in their cars during travel between the two Islands and the mainland.
The new rule is slated to take effect March 1.
Staying below decks in the car during the 45-minute ride between the Vineyard and Woods Hole is a well-settled practice among Island residents.
But SSA chief executive officer Fred C. Raskin said this week that people will simply need to change their ways.
"I understand that it is a short run and it is easier to stay in the car, but this country is facing a security issue and this seems to be a rather nominal sacrifice to help secure the vessel," said Steamship Authority chief executive officer Fred C. Raskin this week. "How do you measure safety against comfort? This is not the same world that it was two years ago," he added.
The rules were drafted by Thomas Creighton, a former state police lieutenant who was recently hired as the director of security for the boat line.
Other rules under the new policy include:
* Only baggage carried by ticketed passengers will be allowed on the luggage carts.
* Passengers will be checked for identification on a random basis.
* Once on board, passengers will not be allowed to leave the ferry until it has reached its final destination.
Mr. Raskin said the security measures are aimed at bringing the boat line into compliance with a new federal maritime security law. The rules must pass muster with the Coast Guard.
"The law says you've got to treat your security plan as if you are a prime target. Since cars are frequently used as a vehicle of destruction, we are being told to get people away from their cars - we're going to try that and we're going to enforce that," Mr. Raskin said.
Discussion about the new security rules will take place in executive session on Thursday; for security reasons, Mr. Raskin would not say whether a vote by the board is required on the new rules.
"I am not going to answer that - this is a matter of security and we don't have to make anything public other than the procedures we are asking the public to adhere to," he said.
Also up for discussion Thursday is a request from county officials on the Vineyard to suspend a new policy that eliminates the use of excursion fares for government groups.
The new policy came under fire at a recent meeting of the Dukes County commission.
The policy was voted on by the boat line board in November and went into effect Jan. 1, the beginning of the SSA fiscal year.
But county officials said no one was told about the new fare structure, which has hit towns and county government midway through their fiscal years. There is no extra money in the budget to pay for added travel expenses, county officials said.
The new policy was intended to cut down on abuse of the excursion fares and also to pare down the number of users, because the boat line loses money on the cut-rate fares.
Towns and counties are still allowed to use half-price vouchers for official travel, but the vouchers must now be applied to full fares instead of the low-cost excursion fares.
Last month county officials asked Vineyard boat line governor Kathryn A. Roessel to take steps either to delay the effective start date for the new policy until July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, or to eliminate it altogether.
Yesterday Mr. Raskin said management will recommend a delay until July 1.
"This is not a big budget item," he said.
Mr. Raskin said he expects the board will also return to the on-again, off-again discussion about whether to allow people to bring their dogs on the Flying Cloud, the high-speed passenger ferry that runs between Hyannis and Nantucket.
Dogs are currently not allowed on the Flying Cloud. Dogs are allowed on the conventional SSA ferries and they are also allowed on the Grey Lady, the high-speed passenger ferry owned by Hy-Line Cruises.
The canine issue has been one more sore point for the people of Nantucket, who are now in open revolt over a long list of complaints about the SSA.
The Nantucket feasibility study about splitting the boat line in two is now officially under way. The study is privately funded and will be led by a group of 10 people. Yesterday the names of the group were reported in the Inquirer and Mirror, the newspaper of record on Nantucket. Seven members of the group are freight-haulers: Dennis Eagan of Sun Transport, Denis Gazaille of Marine Home Center, Nat Lowell of Yates Gas, Myles Reis Jr. of Reis Trucking, Tony Shepley of Shepley Wood Products, John Stackpole of Harbor Fuel and Phil Read, owner of the Jared Coffin House. Mr. Read is also a former boat line governor.
The other three members of the group are Nantucket SSA governor Grace Grossman, port council member Flint Ranney and Tom Kiley, a prominent Boston attorney who is a partner at Cosgrove, Eisenberg and Kiley. Mr. Kiley also worked as a first assistant attorney general under Massachusetts Attorney General Francis X. Bellotti.