Select Board Blasts "Alarming" Bill To Alter Steamship Voting Power

Jason Graziadei •

Ferries in Fog GH
Steamship ferries in the fog. Photo by Greg Hinson |

The mainland port communities want a bigger say in the operations of the Steamship Authority, and the Nantucket Select Board is having none of it.

Proposed legislation that would usurp the veto-proof voting bloc that Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard wield on the Steamship Authority's Board of Governors was called "alarming" and "shortsighted" by the Select Board in a letter sent to the state's Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government last week.

The bill, sponsored by State Sen. Susan Moran (D-Falmouth), would alter the governance structure of the Steamship Authority to give more power to the mainland port communities of Barnstable, Falmouth, and New Bedford.

"This proposed shortsighted legislation would inflict undue harm upon Island residents who are completely dependent upon Steamship Authority operations for travel and access to the necessities of life," the Select Board wrote in the letter. "It is vital that schedules and boats are accessible when needed. It is alarming that when representatives from Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket align on boat line policies for the best interests of their citizens, these efforts could be blocked by opposition from Barnstable, Falmouth, and New Bedford, leaving the Islands with seriously compromised service issues that could impact residents, businesses and possibly municipal operations. Control is, and should remain, correctly with the Islands whose residents, visitors and businesses pay for the operation of the Authority."

The Steamship is governed by an appointed five-member board that includes one member from Nantucket, one from Martha’s Vineyard, as well as three other members from Falmouth, Barnstable, and New Bedford. Each board member from the island is granted 35 percent of the members’ combined vote, while each board member from the mainland gets a 10 percent vote. While disputes are not common, the island representatives retain control over important issues with their weighted votes, even in the event they are outvoted by their counterparts on the mainland.

Senator Moran's bill would bring that arrangement to an end by amending the Steamship’s enabling act with language that would stipulate that anytime Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard's representatives voted together on an issue, they would also need at least one of the votes from the mainland port communities for that motion to pass or be rejected.

“It’s important that all of the service-hosting communities receive an appropriate amount of equity in the decision-making process,” Moran told the joint committee during the hearing. “The Steamship Authority plays a vital role in the overall success and well-being of the Cape and Island communities, and it’s paramount that we as legislators make every effort to enable its prosperity.”

The Nantucket Select Board wrote to the committee that it was not given notice of the Dec. 5 hearing, and so it was unable to share that it is "unanimously and vehemently" opposed to the bill.

"It is unfortunate that special interest groups on the mainland are working so actively to disrupt the Islands’ lifeline, which would adversely impact the livelihoods, lives, safety and health of Island residents," the Select Board wrote.

The Steamship Authority's mainland port communities - especially the Woods Hole neighborhood of Falmouth - have raised concerns about increasing traffic and freight headed to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

"Are the concerns of the mainland municipalities as to traffic and parking impacts of the necessary operations of the Steamship Authority on their communities, valid? Of course," the Nantucket Select Board wrote. "And, there have been many efforts on the part of the Steamship Authority to address those. Certainly, those communities also benefit from Islanders traveling to, and through, their communities on a daily basis, with the purchase of all kinds of goods and services."

A similar bill floated by Moran in 2021 did not pass muster with state lawmakers. 

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