Ferry Islander to Be Sold; Pricetag Set at $750,000

By MIKE SECCOMBE

To the extent that you can do a cost benefit analysis on sentiment, the Steamship Authority did one this week on the Vineyard's favorite ferry, the Islander, and settled on a figure of $750,000.

If the highest bidder could come up with that much money, boat line governors decided, they would be obliged to sell the venerable old ferry.

It was a minor but significant change to the sale process. At their previous meeting, held just a week after the Islander completed her last run, when the tears and eulogizing were still fresh, SSA governors agreed that they did not need to commit to selling to the highest bidder. They reserved the right to reject any bid.

Some governors, including Vineyard governor Marc Hanover, indicated at least parts of the vessel might be saved, even if that affected the sale price.

Mr. Hanover said he would rather see the Islander scrapped than sold as a going concern, and indicated he had already promised the Vineyard Museum that if the ship went for scrap they could have the pilot house.

But two months later emotion was in decline and business sense ascendant. At the monthly boat line meeting held on Nantucket this week, senior managers told the governors they had assessed the Islander's scrap value at $200,000, and thought the best sentimental outcome as well as the best business outcome would be if she was sold as a going concern.

Mr. Hanover said he thought the SSA should still consider buying back some bits, but he voted for the change in the sale terms.

Sealed bids will be accepted until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, July 10. And any sale will close by August 31.

All sentiment aside, if the Islander is sold the money may prove useful. On Nantucket this week governors heard updates on plans for three major capital projects.

Bulkhead improvements at the Fairhaven maintenance facility are expected to cost about $6.5 million. The SSA has been approved for a $1.5 million grant by the state executive office of transportation.

The other major projects include the mid-life refurbishment of the ferry Nantucket and reconstruction of the Oak Bluffs terminal.

Invitations to bid on the projects could be issued in four to six weeks. All the necessary permitting for the Oak Bluffs project is complete, and the project is planned to be done in stages over the next three winters.

SSA general manager Wayne Lamson said the sale of the Islander and the other surplus vessel, the high-speed ferry Flying Cloud, which was retired from the Nantucket run this year, were not key to completing all the projects, but would become part of the financing along with a bond issue, cash transfers and grants.

The SSA has a bond limit of $75 million, with about $60 million in outstanding bonds.

In a business report, governors learned that finances are running largely according to budget projections, although there was one major anomaly in traffic statistics. The number of light trucks (under 20 feet long) carried to and from the Vineyard was down sharply for the first four months of the year, compared with last year.

While bad weather might be responsible for some of it, management suggested, it could be that the downturn in the real estate market is having an impact on contractors and also on traffic.