Steamship Authority chairman Marc Hanover was not looking for support from the Dukes County Commission Wednesday in his continuing battle with the Tisbury board of selectmen over ferry fee money. But he got it anyway.
Commission members voted 5-0, with commissioners Roger Wey and Paul Strauss abstaining, to back Mr. Hanover in his contention that the 50-cent embarkation fee should be used for police assistance and traffic control rather than other projects.
Mr. Hanover has contended Tisbury should use its embarkation fee funds, which totaled $269,396 in 2004, to mitigate congestion at Five Corners and around the Vineyard Haven ferry terminal rather than expect continued payments to that end from the SSA.
The Tisbury selectmen do not see it that way, and have put recent ferry fee revenue toward other expenses, including a new ladder truck for the fire department. The standoff with the boat line preceded a summer of especially bad traffic congestion in and near Vineyard Haven, the principal SSA port on the Island.
Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel yesterday faulted Mr. Hanover for his stand.
"I see this as direct interference with the town of Tisbury," Mr. Israel said. "Marc Hanover is the one who keeps raising this issue. I feel that's unfortunate that he continues to raise the issue, rather than seek common ground." He said he knew of possibly only two meetings between Mr. Hanover and the Tisbury selectmen on the issue.
The selectman also cited letters written by the sponsors of the legislation, Cape and Islands Sen. Robert O'Leary and Rep. Eric T. Turkington, which state it was not their intent to preclude reimbursement by the SSA to the town for police details.
Mr. Israel also said the boat line's failure to move ahead this spring with changes in traffic control at the ferry terminal off Water street contributed to traffic congestion.
Mr. Hanover, who came before the county commissioners at their Wednesday meeting to update them on SSA affairs, mentioned that he was speaking with Oak Bluffs officials about improving the town's new park and ride lot, based this summer at Oak Bluffs School.
Oak Bluffs, he said, had asked the boat line for money. But the SSA managers said the town should use ferry-fee money toward the project.
Further, Mr. Hanover said, the SSA now pays $70,000 to Tisbury to help support its park and ride lot off State Road, yet does not make payments to any other Vineyard town.
The discussion then turned toward the boat line-related traffic clogging Tisbury. Mr. Hanover said the SSA formerly helped fund police traffic details in Vineyard Haven, but that the former Vineyard governor, the late Kathryn (Cassie) Roessel, saw the ferry fee as a proper funding source for the details - a stand with which Mr. Hanover agrees. The fee took effect in January 2004, and is tacked onto the price of each one-way passenger trip on all ferries that ply the routes between the Cape and the Islands.
Commissioner Leonard Jason agreed with Mr. Hanover, calling Tisbury's use of the funds irresponsible. He moved and commissioner Robert Sawyer seconded a motion that the funds should be used for mitigation.
Mr. Strauss and Mr. Wey demurred, saying the commissioners should meet with the Tisbury selectmen before taking a stand on the issue. But the board went on to vote to back Mr. Hanover, with commissioners Strauss and Wey abstaining.
County manager E. Winn Davis relayed the vote to the SSA board of governors at its meeting last Thursday in Hyannis.
Mr. Israel also quoted the ferry fee's sponsors in emphasizing that the fee was intended for municipal relief. He said Tisbury, which lacks the high assessed valuation of Edgartown and business activity of Oak Bluffs, considers the embarkation fee revenue a boon.
Further, he said, the ladder truck was related to port safety because it could be used to reach out over Vineyard Haven waters to help fight fires in the harbor. The ferry fee legislation requires that the money be earmarked for public safety, harbor services and port infrastructure improvements.
Mr. Israel said he hoped Mr. Hanover would work cooperatively with Vineyard Haven, adding: "There is more than one Island town that the Steamship Authority serves."