The Vineyard Steamship Authority governor on Wednesday strongly refuted an online petition that has been circulating over rate increases that took effect early this month.

As of yesterday, 2,846 people had signed the petition created Jan. 1 and posted on The petition asks for repeal or suspension of the rate increases given the recent decline in fuel prices.

At a meeting of the Dukes County Commission Wednesday, boat line governor Marc Hanover reacted to the suggestion made in recent letters to the editor that the SSA has a multi-million-dollar surplus.

County commissioner Tristan Israel: “The petition is showing people’s frustration and I can relate to that.” — Mark Lovewell

“These statements are irresponsible, ridiculous,” he said. “If any of this were true, you would have been well aware of it already. It angers me that somebody can just go out and make false statement like this.”

A small group of petitioners also attended the meeting.

Mr. Hanover explained that by statute, if any Steamship Authority funds are left over at the end of a budget cycle, they must be reappropriated for other projects.

“There are no stockholders, there are no bonuses to management,” he said.

The rate increases include $2 for round-trip excursion fares, 50 cents for adult passengers, and $3 for parking fees at the two Falmouth lots. Mr. Hanover also refuted claims that the increases were meant to target Island residents. “It’s for everybody that goes on the boat,” he said.

Referring to the approximately $10 million budgeted for fuel this year (as noted in the petition), Mr. Hanover said the company needed to protect itself from fluctuations in the market.

Other unforeseen costs this year included an extra $500,000 for new pilings in Tisbury and another $500,000 to meet EPA water quality standards. Mr. Hanover added that the company spends almost a million dollars every time it needs to fix its aging boat slips at the Woods Hole harbor.

Some county commissioners sympathized with the concern expressed by petitioners. “Sometimes ratepayers have to stand up and say enough is enough,” said Tristan Israel, who is also a Tisbury selectman. While not directly challenging Mr. Hanover’s statements, he said he believed that “the message is a good message to the Steamship Authority.”

“The petition is showing people’s frustration and I can relate to that,” Mr. Israel said. He added that he would like to see more SSA-related jobs on the Island.

There was general agreement that communication could be improved between the boat line and the public. The company holds public meetings throughout the year, including two meetings a year on each of the Islands. Most off-season meetings are held in Woods Hole. Mr. Hanover pointed out that fares can be waived for Island residents attending the meetings on the Cape. But he said few Islanders attend SSA meetings these days.

Petitioner Tom Hodgson (at right) said the SSA needs to improve communication with Islanders. — Mark Lovewell

“We’re out there, and we would like more public input,” he said. At the request of commissioner Leonard Jason Jr., he readily agreed to having an additional public meeting this year at the regional high school, although a date was not immediately set.

Turning to the issue of communication, Mr. Hanover agreed that the internet technology at the Steamship Authority is “very poor,” and said the company is working to address the problem. County commissioner Gretchen Tucker Underwood noted that the recent petition was circulated on Facebook; she suggested that the Steamship Authority take a similar approach to public outreach, an idea that Mr. Hanover embraced.

Thomas Hodgson, a West Tisbury resident, said he had read all 280 pages of the petition and that the comments it includes reflected “incredible ignorance about what the Steamship Authority is, how it’s run, who to speak to.” He said addressing that problem would require the company doing a better job of public outreach.

Marie Laursen, speaking on behalf of people who signed the petition, said the rate increases were in addition to “colossal energy increases and electric bills.” She asked that they be suspended until the long-term effect of the Steamship Authority’s several capital projects is better understood. “People are worried about the price of those projects,” she said.

In regard to at least one project, the new Woods Hole terminal, Mr. Hanover said he would not vote to support the $62 million option that Ms. Laursen cited. “That’s very high,” he said. He said the main concern for the Woods Hole facility was the need for new boat slips within the next four or five years.

In other business on Wednesday, Dukes County clerk of courts Joseph Sollitto swore in the seven county commissioners for their new terms, along with county treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders. Mr. Jason stepped down as chairman and the commissioners unanimously appointed Leon Brathwaite as his successor. They also voted unanimously to appoint Christine Todd as vice chairman.

Commissioner David Holway praised Mr. Jason for his leadership on the committee and the commissioners joined in a round of applause.