Boat Line Governor Shuns Participation

Kathryn Roessel Withdraws Partially From Selection Process for New Term, Frankly Doubting Her Own Prospects

By JAMES KINSELLA
Gazette Senior Writer

Quoting a legendary cowboy, a sometimes teary Kathryn A. Roessel said Tuesday that she anticipates her time as the Vineyard Steamship Authority governor is coming to an end.

Although she remains a candidate for reappointment, Ms. Roessel said she will not participate in a session next Tuesday evening, when members of the Dukes County Commission will interview applicants for the position, arguably the most powerful on the Island.

"In the immortal words of the Lone Ranger, I feel like my work here is done," Ms. Roessel said at the monthly boat line meeting Tuesday in Woods Hole.

She spoke after the SSA voted 5-0 to approve the construction of a $30.5 million ferry to replace the 50-year-old ferry Islander, and again voted 5-0 to give the vessel a name chosen by Ms. Roessel: Island Home.

Ms. Roessel's statements added another twist to what is shaping up as a complicated and contentious process to select the next Vineyard representative to the boat line. Her term expires Dec. 31.

Ms. Roessel left her hat in the ring, she said, both because she didn't want to stay on the SSA board as a lame duck, and because she wanted to offer the boat line the choice of some continuity in leadership. The Vineyard member, whoever that is, will become board chairman next year.

But responding to a reporter's question, Ms. Roessel said it's her sense that the county commissioners will not reappoint her.

"I now feel it would be a useless gesture and a waste of everyone's time for me to appear at the interviews," she said.

Ms. Roessel said she was "actually kind of proud" that the county commissioners likely won't reappoint her.

The vote to approve the new ferry for the Vineyard route came across at Tuesday's meeting as somewhat anti-climactic, despite the importance of the new vessel and a price tag that came in more than $5 million higher than originally estimated.

The Island Home, which will be a double-ended ferry, is designed to carry 76 vehicles and more than 1,200 passengers. The 255-foot vessel will have two diesel engines that will drive the ferry fully loaded at 16 knots.

VT Halter Marine Inc. of Pascagoula, Miss., submitted the winning bid. In its final proposal, the company was able to shave $896,508 off its initial bid of $31,436,086. SSA officials had anticipated a price range of between $22 million and $25 million before recent sharp increases in the price of steel. The only other responsive bid from a shipyard came in at $46.8 million.

Engineering and related costs will push the final price tag of the new ferry to about $33 million.

In a presentation to the SSA members, the company's chief executive officer, Boyd E. (Butch) King Jr., said the shipyard would start building the vessel next April, launch it in December 2005, and deliver it to the SSA Fairhaven facility by May 12, 2006.

Ms. Roessel moved and Nantucket governor Flint Ranney, who has become a frequent Vineyard ally, seconded that the SSA award the bid to the Mississippi shipyard.

"I think the Vineyard deserves this boat," Mr. Ranney said, though he also noted that the vessel's price tag "exceeds the cost of all boats ever bought for the Nantucket run."

Ms. Roessel replied that movie theatre tickets didn't used to cost $8.50 either.

The exchange prompted Barnstable governor and board chairman Robert O'Brien to remark that the SSA would have been better off to build the ferry six years ago, when replacing the Islander first came under consideration.

The vote to approve the new ferry moved Ms. Roessel to tears.

"Coming right at the end of my term, this has really been consuming me the past couple of years," she said. She thanked Vineyard residents and SSA officials, especially director of engineering Carl R. Walker, for working with her on the conception and design of the new vessel.

Ms. Roessel then took the initiative to propose that the board name the new ferry Island Home, after an earlier side-wheeler ferry that plied the waters between the Cape and the Islands. It was a day for Island solidarity, and Mr. Ranney seconded the motion.

"In my view, there never could be another Islander," Ms. Roessel said. "I would not rename our Islander something else."

Discussion ensued about the protocol for naming a new vessel. Marc Hanover of Oak Bluffs, chairman of the port council and an applicant for the Vineyard SSA seat, said he believed the task of naming an SSA vessel was first put before local schoolchildren, and then was reviewed by a committee.

Boat line general counsel Steven Sayers, who has worked for the SSA for 12 years, said his experience has been that members name the vessels by adopting the name of earlier vessels.

Mr. Hanover then said he liked the proposed name, given that it includes the word Island.

Governors then voted 5-0 to approve the name.

"Congratulations," Mr. O'Brien told Ms. Roessel. "We have a ship."

In other business Tuesday:

* Governors voted 5-0 to authorize treasurer Wayne Lamson, who also is working as interim general manager, to issue and sell $31.15 million in bonds to pay for the design and construction of the new ferry. (The replacement fund will help cover the rest of the cost.)

The move will double the SSA debt. The boat line now has $31.7 million of outstanding bonds, but Mr. Lamson said much of the current debt will be paid down in the next few years. He also proposed what is known as a wraparound debt service schedule, in which the payment of principal on the new debt will be delayed to 2011. Under the schedule, all existing debt would be paid by 2021.

In a report to members, Mr. Lamson wrote that the wraparound approach "smooths out the authority's overall debt service requirements and allows the authority to issue additional bonds in 2005 or 2006 [such as for] $10 million for a replacement for the M/V Flying Cloud."

Mr. Lamson estimates that the new bonds will increase annual debt service to about $6.5 million a year for the next 12 years, dropping off to $4.5 million from 2018 to 2021.

* Governors voted 5-0 to approve a $1.8 million project to widen the decks of the freight ferries Gay Head and Katama by 12 feet. North Florida Shipyard of Jacksonville, Fla., submitted the winning bid. The widening will increase the automobile capacity of each vessel to 42 automobiles, an increase of 12.

Under the proposal, the Gay Head will be taken out of service Tuesday and return to service in mid-March 2005. The Katama will go into the shipyard in April and return in mid-June.

* Mr. Lamson reviewed SSA operations for September and the first nine months of the year. Compared with last year, passenger traffic in September between Woods Hole and the Vineyard dropped .5 per cent to 225,848. For the first nine months of the year, passenger traffic on the route fell 5.9 per cent to 1,737,320.

Automobile traffic on the Vineyard route in September fell .5 per cent to 40,334. Truck traffic was up 17.1 per cent to 7,149.

In September, the SSA brought in $2,192,776 in net operating income, off $257,625 from the budget. For the first nine months, the SSA recorded $7,374,509 in income, $345,114 over budget.