There is much to be said about the Steamship Authority situation. This letter will only touch on a few of the most immediate issues.

This Tuesday, about 50 people, including a contingent from the Vineyard, attended the SSA meeting in Woods Hole. Many were there because of a petition asking for a rate rollback, which has been signed by almost three thousand people. Most of the signers are from the Vineyard, but substantial numbers come from Nantucket or from other Massachusetts locations.

The Authority continues to resist requests for fare relief. At the meeting the SSA said that they will not roll back prices for what they say may be a very temporary drop in the price of. At the meeting, the SSA’s position was that oil prices are likely to return to $75 per barrel in the near future.

Predicting the future is an iffy game, but the predictions of others familiar with the oil market contradict the SSA argument about high oil prices. While I do not remember the SSA’s source of information, other authorities feel very differently about the price of oil. J.P. Morgan foresees continuing significant oil market weakness and expects oil to go below $40, with only a gradual return to $90, and that not until 2019. From Wednesday’s news we have: “[Reuters] — Oil fell as much as five per cent on Tuesday after the International Monetary Fund cut its 2015 global economic forecast and key producer Iran hinted prices could drop to $25 a barrel without supportive OPEC action.”

Although the cost-of-fuel argument for the increase has vaporized, the SSA is still unwilling to back down. Understandably, no organization likes to retract a decision. With the oil price argument gone, other reasons have been brought forth to justify the increase. In their favor, some of those ways are undeniably necessary. Meanwhile, Islanders, especially those of modest means or on fixed incomes, have been handed yet another financial stress.

But in some ways the fare-rollback issue is just a sideshow, or even a red herring. A far more major issue looms. The SSA is on course to spend massively in the coming years. We are told we will soon need to replace more of the older ferries. The newly ordered freight boat will cost between $35 and $40 million. How much will the next passenger ferry cost? Perhaps $80 million?

The SSA’s terminal rebuild project in Woods Hole has a projected cost of about $62 million. That does not include $6 million for a new administrative office building. There are still no estimates for the cost of moving the maintenance department out of Woods Hole to a more distant location. That cost will also be in the millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, on Martha’s Vineyard, the SSA has not bothered to give us a public presentation or even a defense of this expensive plan. None of the county commissioners I’ve spoken to, and I have not spoken to all of them, have even seen the plans for this project, except for possibly a quick glimpse of the modest amount of information that’s been published in Island newspapers. I’ll speculate and suggest that the same is probably true of Island selectmen.

Right now the town of Falmouth has no SSA representative, and is voiceless. That town deserves to be heard on issues that so directly affect it. At the very least, the SSA should have the courtesy to wait for Falmouth to give them a representative, before continuing their planning.

While it’s late in the process, there is still ample time for the SSA to put a halt to these high-priced proposals, and to come up with better alternatives that are adequate, simple and less expensive.

They must then be willing to show all of us that what they propose is indeed a good and necessary thing. Until then, they should not go further.

The ocean is not rising so fast that these expensive projects must be put on such a fast track.

There is more to say, but enough for now.

Thomas Hodgson
West Tisbury