NBEDC, City Help Nutex Retain Nearly 35 Jobs

City Firm Receives ‘Nice Christmas Present’
By Aaron Nicodemus, Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — A dark cloud lifted for the 35 or so employees at Nutex Industries in the South End yesterday after the company emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

For months, the company had operated under bankruptcy protection, a double-edged sword that was the firm’s temporary salvation but could have meant a death knell if the U.S. Bankruptcy Court had allowed Citizens Bank to be paid, or had liquidated the company.

Yesterday, the bankruptcy court approved Nutex’s reorganization plan and its employees have their jobs. There is much work to be done, now that employees will not get a break between Christmas and New Year’s.

“It’s a big relief to all the workers,” said Bruce Rachel of Fall River, a manager at Nutex for the past 10 years. “The mood here had been kind of down, but we all figured we should stick it out, fight it out. It’s a big family here, and everyone’s happy today.”

Nutex hummed with the sound of looms weaving strands of brightly colored yarn. Located in a mill tucked inside the hurricane barrier on West Rodney French Boulevard, the company makes belts and other woven fabrics for apparel companies such as Wal-Mart, Land’s End, J. Crew and Eddie Bauer; for military uses, such as flame-resistant mesh for fighter pilots; and for medical uses, such as belts and harnesses used by nurses to transport sick patients. It manufactures belts used by the Boy Scouts of America. The company has been in business since 1980, and 10 years ago employed as many as 75 people.

But since 2000, the company’s customers began seeking cheaper alternatives in China, and half its business disappeared.

“Between losing business and downsizing, it has been a very painful process,” company President Andrei Klein said. “In the last six months, we managed to stay alive under tremendous duress. We have tremendously loyal employees, and loyal customers, but we didn’t have the money to buy raw materials. So we couldn’t deliver finished product on time.”

Emerging from bankruptcy protection will allow the company to use money lent to it from one of its largest customers to buy the yarn its machines turn into woven products. In four to five weeks, the company will be profitable again, Mr. Klein promised.

The company got some help in emerging from bankruptcy protection. One of its regular customers floated the company a loan; Mayor Scott W. Lang testified on the company’s behalf before the bankruptcy court; and Matthew A. Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Corp., promised to work on a tax increment financing plan and access to federal and state grants.

Joe Soares, supervisor of the weaving room, has worked at Nutex 21 years. He was worried about his job, he said, until yesterday.

“It was a nice Christmas present for everyone,” he said.

“Everybody is relieved and happy to have their jobs,” said Maria Rodrigues of New Bedford, an employee at Nutex for more than 19 years. “It means less people on the unemployment line.”

Jale Stone, a designer at the company for 19 years, said the company’s work force is older and it would have been hard for them to find new jobs.

“I’d have no place to go if we lost this,” she said. “It’d be a Stop & Shop bagger, I guess.”

Contact Aaron Nicodemus at anicodemus@s-t.com
Date of Publication: December 23, 2006 on Page A05

Local Market Promotes High-End Handcrafted Items

Bringing shoppers downtown once a month on Saturdays to the NBopenmarket has grown from an idea to reality with an initial 15 vendors that more than doubled over the course of four months. “The NBopenmarket is modeled on a flea market, but it’s much more than that. All the items are high-end, fine crafts. Everything is handmade. You won’t see machine-made mass produced items,” explained organizer Elissa Paquette.

Set in a spacious storefront in the Bristol Building on corner of Union and Purchase Streets, downtown New Bedford, the market features independent vendors offering art, antiques, records, vintage, and handmade items of all kinds, as well as
live music. Currently there is no vendor fee.

This spring/summer, NBopenmarket will be held outdoors in Wing’s Court with the capacity to accomodate about 50 vendors.

Shoppers can find ceramics, comics & zines, handmade books, jewelry, designer clothing and accessories, hand printed tees, handmade soaps, antiques, wearables, hats and mittens, paintings, prints, glassware, music, plants, toys.

According to Elissa, “The event seems to be growing and creating considerable traffic to surrounding businesses, such as the Green Bean and Artificial Marketplace. NBopenmarket has also spurned interest in vacant retail space. One vendor, the owner of a record store on the Cape, was downtown last AHA! Night checking out the neighborhood and looking at some available commercial space.”

“Depending on the response, I can see the market expanding to a weekly event with local DJs and performers. I’d love to see the Farmer’s Market involved. For now we’re happy to see the fabulous handcrafted work at the market and people spending time on a Saturday afternoon downtown,” said Elissa, owner of Calico, a vintage clothing and accessories store located at 528 Pleasant Street.

For more information, contact Elissa at elissa@shopcalico.com.

Wareham Woman to Head City’s Troubled Harbor Commission

Wareham Woman to Head Troubled Panel
By Becky W. Evans, Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — Mayor Scott W. Lang has appointed Kristin Decas of Wareham as the new executive director of the Harbor Development Commission, which is fraught with financial and management problems, including conflict-of-interest questions involving its treasurer and a $1.3 million debt owed to the city.

For the past five years, Ms. Decas, 37, has been deputy director and program manager for the Massachusetts Governor’s Seaport Advisory Council. She has also worked for the state Department of Environmental Protection, coordinating its alternative fuel vehicle program.

Ms. Decas was selected from a group of 12 applicants for her “tremendous experience with import-export issues, short sea shipping development and recreational boating opportunities,” Mayor Lang said yesterday during a press conference.

He cited her familiarity with several New Bedford projects, such as dredging, berthing and harbor planning.

“We wanted someone who could come in and build a strong coalition and who knew all the players,” he said. “She knows the area.”

Ms. Decas — who signed a three-year contract and will be paid a starting salary of $80,000 per year — said she looks forward to implementing some of the policies that she developed while on the seaport advisory council.

“I’m really excited to now put them into practical application,” she said.

Her vision for New Bedford includes making it a thriving fishing port, a short sea shipping hub and a destination for small cruise ships that would visit historic ports around the state.

Short sea shipping reduces highway congestion by moving freight up and down the Atlantic coast by vessel rather than by truck, Ms. Decas said. New Bedford would be an ideal hub because of its dredged harbor and its access to highways and rail, she said.

A new report on a financial and managerial review of the Harbor Development Commission shows the agency owes the city $1.3 million due to ferry terminal construction and other project overruns. The report, which was ordered by the mayor, also points out several possible conflicts related to HDC treasurer and commissioner Jose Gouveia Jr.

Ms. Decas said she has reviewed the problems outlined in the report and will work with the mayor and the commission “to sort those out.” She noted her management of the council’s $11.5 million budget for fiscal 2007 as evidence of her financial management skills.

Mayor Lang said he plans to change HDC operations to allow more time for Ms. Decas to focus on harbor development. The mayor has yet to decide whether in light of the report he will rescind his February reappointment recommendation for Mr. Gouveia, whose term expired in December 2001.

“I am looking at all the appointments,” he said of the six HDC commissioners.

Ms. Decas will be the first female HDC executive director. She will begin the position within the next week and a half, the mayor said.

While some people may be under the impression the waterfront is “dominated by men,” Mayor Lang said, “we have women playing a vital, active role in the New Bedford waterfront across the board.”

Born and raised in Chappaqua, N.Y., Ms. Decas moved to Wareham in 1997. She is a member of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in New Bedford, where she married her husband, Gregory, and where her two young daughters were baptized.

In 1997, Ms. Decas received a master’s degree in environmental policy and management from the University of Denver. She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Vermont.

Contact Becky W. Evans at revans@s-t.com
Date of Publication: December 22, 2006 on Page A07

Business Park on Upswing

New Companies Expansion Add Hundreds of Jobs to City
By Aaron Nicodemus, Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — The New Bedford Business Park had the best year in its history in 2006, with six companies either relocating or expanding in the park, and three new roads allowing for more to come.

Tom Davis, executive director of the Greater New Bedford Industrial Foundation, said the park never had more than four new or expanded companies in any one previous year.

The expansions included two new companies, Commercial Drywall and Horacio’s Sheet Metal, as well as a small electricity plant powered by methane gas from the Crapo Hill Landfill, operated by Commonwealth New Bedford Energy. There were expansions to existing park tenants Natco, Five Star Surgical, and Depuy Johnson & Johnson. First Highland Corp., a national developer, recently purchased the large vacant Velvet Drive Transmission building at the entrance to the park and is renovating it for use by multiple manufacturers.

AFC Cable, which did not appear in the announcements yesterday, is moving into its huge, new facility in the park sometime in 2007. The plant is already under construction.

“This is an all-time record for us, dating back to 1960,” said Mr. Davis of the park’s expansion in 2006.

All told, the new companies and the expansions brought 250 jobs to the business park this year, according to Mr. Davis.

Several business leaders spoke about why they chose to expand in the business park.

Natco Inc. is a wholesale food distribution company that was founded 100 years ago in a Park Street basement. It has since grown into a multimillion-dollar corporation that employs 130 people with an average wage of $60,000 per year.

Mark Eisenberg, CEO of Natco, said the center of the company’s distribution area is not New Bedford. But the company has chosen to stay, and expand.

“We have built in New Bedford because it is our home,” he said.

David Cabral, another New Bedford native, and his partners built up Five Star Surgical from a tiny space in the basement of a city mill building into a 37,500-square-foot facility in the business park. The company recently purchased a surgical product manufacturer from Taunton, and is moving its employees and business into the company’s recently built addition.

“We’ve always wanted to build our business here,” he said.

A small, electric-generation plant has also been constructed near the landfill, turning methane gas produced by buried, decaying garbage into 3.3 megawatts of electricity.

George Aronson, principal of Commonwealth Resource Management Co., said the plant sells its power to a commercial marketer, delivered into the electric grid by NStar.

“It’s green electricity,” he said.

For the past seven years, much of the region’s job growth has occurred in the New Bedford Business Park.

The park has been in an expansion mode since 1999, with the number of businesses there doubling to 36. The total number of employees in the park has increased from 3,000 to 4,500, with a total payroll of $250 million.

And there is more expansion to come, Mr. Davis said. The three new roads open up 125 acres in 10 separate lots to development. The park is set to have another six projects completed this year, bringing 450 more jobs into the park, Mr. Davis said. Seventy-five percent of the newly opened land is in Dartmouth, and 25 percent in New Bedford.

The business park has become the top generator of jobs for the region, Mr. Davis said. And the jobs the park has created are of high quality.

The average pay for a blue-collar job in the business park is $17.50 per hour, with high-quality fringe benefits. Mr. Davis said about 60 percent of the park’s employees live in New Bedford, 25 percent in Dartmouth and the remaining 15 percent from other communities.

“Regardless of where you build the road, it benefits working families in both communities,” he said.

Contact Aaron Nicodemus at anicodemus@s-t.com
Date of Publication: December 06, 2006 on Page A06

Region Willing to Work

Rick Barisano braves the frigid temperatures as he works around the foundation at the future site of the T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant in the new Target plaza in Dartmouth. A study released today shows that SouthCoast has posted positive growth in its labor force, despite falling numbers statewide.

SouthCoast Defies Statewide Trend of Declining Labor Force
By Brian Boyd, Standard-Times Staff Writer
Photo Credit: Peter Pereira/The Standard-Times

Rick Barisano braves the frigid temperatures as he works around the foundation at the future site of the T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant in the new Target plaza in Dartmouth. A study released today shows that SouthCoast has posted positive growth in its labor force, despite falling numbers statewide.

While the number of able-bodied workers in Massachusetts has dwindled in recent years, SouthCoast is bucking the trend with a growing work force, a new study says.

The size of the state’s labor force declined by 1.7 percent over the last three years and appears on track for its fourth consecutive decline in 2006, according to a study released today.

By comparison, Bristol County’s labor force expanded by 2.9 percent from 2000-05 and Plymouth County’s rose by 1.6 percent. The six-year statewide number remained stagnant, said the study, produced by the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth and the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.

The area’s growth was modest compared to national trends. The country’s labor force expanded by nearly 5 percent in the same six-year period, the study says.

The study attributes the statewide decline to two trends: the loss of working-age residents to other states and the lower participation in the work force by men.

The state’s high cost of living encourages workers to look elsewhere for opportunities, experts say.

“As other regions of the country provide different job opportunities, but more importantly lower cost of living, lower housing costs, you have seen this hemorrhaging of people from the Northeast,” said Paul Vigeant, UMass Dartmouth’s assistant chancellor for economic development.

While the state is at a competitive disadvantage because of high costs, SouthCoast benefits from having lower housing prices compared to Boston.

The region has gained people migrating from elsewhere in the state, searching for savings, Mr. Vigeant said. “It’s a fact people have finally figured out we’re not as remote from Boston as people might have thought,” he said.

Boston’s cost of housing is out of reach for many, including some entry-level professionals, said Jon Bryan, a professor in the Department of Management at Bridgewater State College and a labor and employment specialist.

“You would not be surprised if those new young professionals attempt to migrate to an area where they will be able to have more disposable income,” Dr. Bryan said.

The Mass Inc-Northeastern study also found that:

  • Massachusetts is the only state to experience a decline in labor force each of the last three years.
  • Massachusetts is second only to New York in percentage of population lost to other states from 2000 to 2005. More than 200,000 people left the Bay State, and only international immigrants prevented the state from an overall population loss, according to the study.
  • The state is primarily losing working-age adults, not retirees, especially ages 16 to 24 and 35 to 54.
  • The leading destinations for former Massachusetts residents are Florida, New Hampshire, Texas, Connecticut, Rhode Island and North Carolina.
  • Since 2000, there has not been an increase in the number of people commuting to Massachusetts from other states for work, according to the study.

Education gap
The study concluded that men are more likely to drop out of the labor force — defined as including all people of working age who are employed or actively seeking a job — than in years past.

From 1990 to 2000, the percentage of men ages 16 to 64 participating in the labor force fell by 4 percentage points, from 89.5 percent to 85.5 percent. Women’s participation in the labor force rose by nearly 1 percent, to 74.3 percent, during the same time.

Men with a high school diploma or less have withdrawn from the labor force at a faster rate than better educated men.

The percentage of men in the labor force with no high school diploma fell more than 10 percentage points, to 65.5 percent, from 1990 to 2000. The percentage of men with a diploma or an equivalency degree dropped by nearly 7 percent, the study says.

Industries more receptive to hiring women, such as health care, have enjoyed job growth, said Andrew Sum, the report’s lead author and director of Northeastern’s Center for Labor Market Studies.

“Men with limited education have been especially hard hit by changes in job structure and wage opportunities,” Mr. Sum said in a news release.

Men with little education are disproportionately hurt by the loss of manufacturing jobs and illegal immigration, Dr. Bryan said. “I’m very concerned about our loss of manufacturing jobs because that was an area for America to provide good middle class wages for relatively unskilled workers,” he said.

Warning signs
While only three Massachusetts counties — Suffolk, Middlesex, and Norfolk — lost working-age residents, the study’s authors argue the overall numbers do not bode well for the state’s economy.

A growing labor force often indicates a strong economy. On one hand, an expanding economy attracts new residents. On the other hand, the availability of workers, especially educated ones, lures business to the state, the authors of the study said in their executive summary.

“If employers expand their operations and new employers locate to take advantage of skilled workers, the economy grows, creating more opportunities,” the study said.

Mr. Vigeant of UMass Dartmouth said the statewide problem could serve as a warning to SouthCoast.

If the region does not continue to recruit businesses and maintain quality of life, it could suffer the same hemorrhaging of people the state is experiencing as a whole, Mr. Vigeant said.

The region traditionally lost people, rather than gained them. From 1950 to 2000, the area saw highly educated residents leave for job opportunities elsewhere, Mr. Vigeant said.

“The inflow is just starting to restore some of losses we experienced in the previous 50 years,” he said.

Contact Brian Boyd at bboyd@s-t.com

Date of Publication: December 10, 2006 on Page A07

Hangar OK’d For Delta Flight School

By Jack Spillane, Standard-Times staff writer

NEW BEDFORD — The City Council set the city on the runway to an improved airport last night, but chose not to rev its engines too quickly.

The council’s Finance Committee (a committee of the entire council) approved $1.1 million in bonding authority for a new hangar for the Delta flight school. The committee, however, chose not to bond a second $1 million for a hangar for Cape Air or some other small airline carrier that might be interested.

The council, sitting in formal session later in the evening, also gave final approval to the deal.

Mayor Scott W. Lang had asked the council for $2 million for both hangars, but said afterwards he was satisfied with the compromise.

The vote followed a closed-door session at which councilors discussed with City Treasurer Daniel W. Patten and members of the New Bedford Airport Commission negotiations with private carriers that might be interested in leasing the hangars.

Councilors wanted concrete information about whether the private parties had committed to leases that would provide enough money to pay off the bonds. But James Burgess, chairman of the airport commission, said it would be inappropriate to discuss the details in public.

No councilor made a public statement about the pros or cons of Mayor Lang’s proposal, but Mr. Burgess, the longtime chairman of the commission, hinted that the city might lose the Delta Connection Academy (which is affiliated with Bridgewater State College) if it did not act.

“It’s kind of detrimental if we don’t move forward on this,” he said.

Mr. Burgess later told The Standard-Times that the Delta school currently has 200-plus students and is looking to expand. Airlines are increasingly relying on private flight schools for their pilots, he said.

“I think it’s terrific. Now the academy is going to be able to expand,” he said.

One person who didn’t think it was terrific was Doris Cunningham, the longtime owner of Colonial Air Inc. She acknowledged to the paper that she was disappointed but declined further comment.

The private airplane maintenance company had hoped to build the hangar on city-owned land, but Mayor Lang decided he wanted the city to build the facility itself.

The mayor has said the hangar will help the municipal airport (which is currently operating at a loss) break even. But Ward 1 Councilor Linda Morad has questioned whether the city might be saddled with other costs down the line associated with things such as maintenance.

The council vote was 8-2 with Councilors David Alves and John T. Saunders voting against it after the second million was jettisoned.

Councilor Jane Gonsalves, who was absent during the vote, supported the one-hangar compromise in the final vote.

Councilor Saunders told The Standard-Times he did not think the numbers added up.

“It was a 10-year deal and I don’t think they could pay off the debt service,” he said.

He was also concerned that the city does not yet have a signed agreement with Delta, he said.

Mayor Lang said he was satisfied with the vote and that, when the city works out a lease arrangement with Cape Air (or some other airline), he will come back to the council for the second hangar.

“I think it’s a great economic development project that’s going to secure the Delta training school,” he said. “I appreciate the council’s vote on this and we’ll move forward.”

City officials released no numbers about the income stream for the bond last night beyond $80,000 per year the academy is currently paying to lease the former plumber’s building as a training center. But Mayor Lang said he believes Delta has committed to enough revenue to make the deal work.

“My understanding is the income stream can, in fact, pay for the bond-plus,” he said.

He said he is looking forward to discussions with neighborhoods adjacent to the airport about how the airport can more effectively function at its present size.

Contact Jack Spillane at jspillane@s-t.com

Date of Publication: December 12, 2006 on Page A05

Regional Leaders Discuss Economics with Patrick’s Transition Team

Patrick’s Economic Development Team Hears from SouthCoast
By Brian Fraga, Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — Seeing a rare opportunity to influence economic development policy, dozens of SouthCoast business leaders, planning officials, educators and politicians packed a UMass Dartmouth Star Store campus classroom yesterday for a public forum with Gov.-elect Deval Patrick’s transition team.

They pushed for the incoming Democratic governor to address a variety of local initiatives familiar to SouthCoast officials and residents long frustrated with the indifference of previous occupants of the corner office.

“There is a perception that down here, until now, this region has been an afterthought,” said Margaret “Mardee” Xifaras, the local Democratic activist with past experience in national campaigns.

“It’s an absolutely lost opportunity. This is a beautiful region, an incredibly resourceful region,” she said. “We just want a fair shake.”

Among the several economic development initiatives advocated yesterday were the establishment of local commuter rail service, revamping adult basic education, promoting local tourism, protecting the fishing industry from burdensome regulations and safeguarding manufacturers and small businesses.

William H. Davis, chairman of a Boston energy company, and Susan Whitehead, vice chairwoman of a Cambridge biomedical research institute, listened attentively and jotted down notes. They represented the governor-elect’s economic development task force, one of 15 “issues working groups” convening similar public forums across Massachusetts.

The other working groups are eliciting public opinion and feedback on issues like education, energy, environment, housing, transportation and public safety. Mrs. Xifaras is a member of the civic engagement work group, which is holding a 5:30 p.m. public forum tomorrow at UMass Dartmouth.

Mr. Davis highlighted the principles guiding the economic development working group: promoting an innovation economy, retaining core businesses, streamlining the permitting and approval processes, investing in infrastructure, increasing access to capital and “better selling” Massachusetts.

He said any ideas along those principles “were good ideas.”

“Our objective is not to come here with ideas to show you, but to come here with pens and pieces of paper and listen to you,” he said.

Kenneth Fiola, executive director of the Fall River Office of Economic Development, provided Mr. Davis with a written report of the Route 24 interchange project, which will create new ramps between Exits 8 and 9 on Route 24. The $25 million project includes the creation of a 14,000-acre Bioreserve.

Noting that the ramps would spur development of the Fall River Executive Park and Freetown’s Riverfront Business Park — creating an estimated 11,000 jobs — Mr. Fiola called for Mr. Patrick to make the project’s completion a top priority.

“In our opinion, this represents one of the few projects that could be considered smart growth in terms of protection of the environment as well as the creation of economic development opportunities,” Mr. Fiola said.

Jim Kendall, owner of New Bedford Seafood Consulting, pushed for the governor to not forget New Bedford’s fishing industry, one of the nation’s most lucrative.

“Fishing is the economic engine for the city, and I think if you look closely underneath the hood, you might find it is for the whole state,” Mr. Kendall said.

Peter Kortright, president of the Fall River Chamber of Commerce, said a “radical, new approach” is required in terms of spurring local economic development and improving education.

“The state, working with the cities and towns, needs to radically rethink education,” Mr. Kortright said. “The administration needs to be organized in a way so important decisions are made quickly.”

The economic development task force comprises 23 individuals from a wide cross-section of regional economic development councils, chambers of commerce, banks, law firms and nonprofit agencies. It is charged with submitting its preliminary report to Mr. Patrick by Dec. 15.

Contact Brian Fraga at bfraga@s-t.com

Date of Publication: December 06, 2006 on Page A09

Lang Mulls Options on Rail

Mayor Renews Idea of Lakeville Route
By Jack Spillane, Standard-Times Staff Writer

New Bedford Mayor Scott W. Lang has quietly begun exploring the possibility of connecting the long-sought SouthCoast commuter rail line to the Lakeville/Middleboro station.

Mayor Lang says the connection might be more economical and have New Bedford-Boston trains running sooner than waiting for construction of the preferred route through Raynham and Stoughton.

The first-term mayor’s interest in re-examining a rail route discarded nine years ago (after an extensive study) has raised concerns among the legislative delegation, as well as with Fall River Mayor Edward M. Lambert Jr..

Though SouthCoast lawmakers have given him a green light to have the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District reanaylze the Lake-ville alternative, they are skeptical. They believe that nothing but the long-planned Stoughton route will transport commuters quickly enough to attract significant ridership.

They also are worried that a division on SouthCoast over the rail route could cause Boston-area lawmakers to delay the two-decade-old project further or decide in favor of a cheaper Lakeville route that will never be fast enough to attract commuters.

“I appreciate the intellect Scott Lang has brought to some of the regional issues,” Mayor Lambert said. “My sense is that he’s just thinking out loud. That’s not bad, as long as it’s only thinking out loud.”

Mayor Lambert said Mayor Lang has committed to the region being unified behind the Stoughton route. And Mayor Lang told The Standard-Times that the more direct Stoughton route makes the most sense in the long run.

Still, Mayor Lang insisted that the Lakeville route could be a less expensive, interim connection to Boston until the state is willing to fund the Stoughton route.

“What I’m simply saying is that as we build the rail, I’d like to see every option and opportunity explored,” he said.

Connecting New Bedford and Fall River to the Lakeville commuter station could break the deadlock over the high cost of the Stoughton route, as well as the time-consuming environmental permits needed for it, Mayor Lang argued.

The Lakeville connection would cost an estimated $350 million, rather than the $800 million to $1 billion price tag of the Stoughton route, he noted. He also contended that the previous studies of the Stoughton route may be outdated now that automobile commute times have increased as Route 24 has grown increasingly congested.

“All I’m saying is let’s get a dialogue going,” Mayor Lang said. “I think everything should be looked at.”

He advocated the possibility of the Lakeville route to all the gubernatorial candidate this fall and the entire delegation, along with the two mayors, discussed the Lakeville alternative at a Boston meeting this past July.

Mayor Lang’s advocacy for a Lakeville option drew a worried reaction from his longtime former law partner, Democratic state Rep. William Straus of Mattapoiset.

Rep. Straus said a short-term Lakeville connection would kill any chance of ever completing the Stoughton line.

“That would be all you’d ever get,” said Rep. Straus of the connection to the Lakeville station.

Rep. Straus, a seven-term legislator, is a former vice chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

SouthCoast will only get one chance in the forseeable future at an expensive project like commuter rail, he contended. “That’s the way major capital projects work,” he said.

He also pointed out that the MBTA’s environmental justification for the shorter Stoughton route is based on the Lakeville route’s commuting times being too long.

One rationale for Mayor Lang’s advocacy of the Lakeville option is the state government’s track record of favoring Boston-centric mass transit projects over those from outside the Route 495 area.

The MBTA — the Boston-based rapid transit agency that undertakes mass transit and rail expansions — is already committed to extending the Green Line subway to Medford (a Boston suburb) and connecting the Red and Blue lines in downtown Boston.

There is also speculation that the MBTA wants to build costly double tracks between Boston and Braintree in order to speed up the commute on the new Greenbush train to the South Shore, which will come on line next year.

The MBTA examined the double-track option six years ago. At the time, it was estimated to cost $200 million and now the MBTA says it would certainly cost more.

Double-tracking for the Greenbush line also would shorten the commuter trip to Boston for all the routes south of Boston, making both the Lakeville and Stoughton routes quicker commutes than if they were built under current track configurations.

Double-tracking could reduce the commute time from New Bedford on the Lakeville route — currently estimated to be 1 hour, 37 minutes — making it a viable commuting option for the first time.

Double-tracking could make the already shorter Stoughton route even quicker.

Joe Pesaturo, the MBTA’s spokesman, left no doubt that double-tracking south of Boston would help all the proposed rail lines, including the ones to Fall River and New Bedford.

“Double track is the greatest help in minimizing trains delays,” he said in a written statement.

While SRPEDD’s executive director acknowledged that the time differences between the Stoughton and Lakeville routes could have changed in the decade since the original rail study, he doubted it.

“The same arguments still stand as to why (Lakeville) line is not a good option,” said Stephen C. Smith, explaining that the Stoughton route will still be able to accommodate more train cars than Lakeville.

In addition, Mr. Smith said that the environmental impediments to the Stoughton line are nothing compared to the property-takings necessary to build double tracks from Boston south to Braintree.

“I don’t think things have changed significantly,” he said.

State Sen. Mark C.W. Montigny said his first preference remains for Governor-elect Deval Patrick to use $425 million in bonding authority already set aside to build the Stoughton route. Sen. Montigny put that money in the state budget five years ago when he was Senate Ways and Means chairman.

At the governor’s discretion, the bonding authority can be used to build the Stoughton route at any time, but neither former Acting Gov. Jane M. Swift nor present Gov. Mitt Romney has used it.

“My sense is the best thing we can do it to urge Deval Patrick to take a fresh set of eyes and look at this,” Sen. Montigny said.

While he has some “concerns and hesitations” about Mayor Lang’s plan, Sen Montigny said he doesn’t believe there is any downside to discussing it.

“We’ve been so long at this with so little progress that we’d be irresponsible not to listen to any ideas,” he said.

Still, “I’m skeptical,” he said. “My personal priority is to keep the focus on the direct route.”

Sen. Montigny said he especially does not want to spend another decade re-studying the issue. And if the region ever convinced the state to build the $350 million Lakeville connection, it might be stuck with it.

“Be careful of what you wish for,” he said. “You get that line and it may foreclose discussions on the more direct route,” he said.

Mayor Lambert, who leaves office next year, said he will not support what he sees as a second-rate rail connection.

“I certainly don’t think we should accept something less than other regions have been given,” he said.

The Fall River mayor was referring to the fact that the MBTA has built commuter rail extensions in other parts of the state over the past several decades that efficiently transport commuters to Boston.

“I think we’re going to get one shot at this and we want to have it done the right way the first time,” he said.

Mayor Lambert said he is worried that if the SouthCoast starts talking about alternatives, it could be interpreted by Boston lawmakers to mean the region hasn’t yet decided what to do about commuter rail.

“I think we need to speak with one voice,” he said.

Contact Jack Spillane at jspillane@s-t.com

Date of Publication: December 10, 2006 on Page A09

Freezer Ship to Unload in City

By Becky W. Evans, Standard-Times Staff Writer

The new year will bring a 350-foot freezer ship into the port of New Bedford to unload frozen herring and mackerel caught in offshore waters by a fleet of up to nine trawlers that are too small to carry the fish back to shore safely.

James Odlin, president of Atlantic Pelagic Seafood in Portland, Maine, said the American Freedom will serve as a giant freezer, allowing more fishermen to target offshore stocks of Atlantic herring and mackerel that swim from Labrador, Canada, to North Carolina.

The current fleet of large, mid-water trawlers — equipped with refrigeration systems to carry the fish back to onshore processing and freezing plants — has yet to reach the annual total allowable catch levels for herring and mackerel set by federal fishing regulators, Mr. Odlin said.

In 2005, fishermen caught less than 30 percent of the quota for the offshore fishery. The quota for the inshore Gulf of Maine fishery was reached by December of that year.

Mr. Odlin, a second-generation fisherman who sits on the New England Fishery Management Council, said the unused quota is an opportunity for underutilized groundfish vessels to harvest offshore herring and mackerel. He plans to refit his two New Bedford draggers with the appropriate electronics and nets needed to catch the small, streamlined fish that feed on plankton. He said he is “in discussion with several other boat owners” about supplying fish for the American Freedom, which will provide work for about 20 fishing vessels per year.

Eight months out of the year, the freezer ship will chase herring and mackerel stocks as they swim down the Atlantic Coast. Fishing vessels that are too small to carry heavy loads of fish will sell their catch at sea to the American Freedom, which will freeze the fish whole using a state-of-the-art refrigeration system.

Although home-ported in Portland, the ship will offload fish in Boston, New Bedford and possibly ports in the Chesapeake. It will likely come to New Bedford in mid-January after returning from fishing grounds south of Cape Cod, Mr. Odlin said. The frozen fish will be kept in cold storage and later shipped to Africa, Eastern Europe and other foreign markets.

A federal permit will allow the American Freedom to freeze no more than 20,000 metric tons of offshore herring per year. It is not allowed to freeze any herring from inshore zones in the Gulf of Maine, where regulators are trying to limit the high amount of herring fishing.

Critics of the freezer vessel fear it could hurt the Atlantic herring stock, which collapsed in 1976 due to overfishing by foreign fishing fleets that are now banned from U.S. waters. The stock has since recovered, though some environmentalists believe the amount of herring in the coastal waters of the Gulf of Maine may be declining.

Roger Fleming, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, worries that increasing offshore fishing efforts could hurt the marine ecosystem. Whales, tuna, striped bass and groundfish are among the many species that feed on herring, he said.

“My concern is that I do not think we have accurately accounted for the role of herring in the ecosystem yet,” Mr. Fleming said.

Regulators need to set aside more herring for the ecosystem and less for fishermen, he said.

Peter Baker of the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association worries about accountability. He wants to know how regulators will monitor how much and what kinds of fish the ship processes at sea.

“We had an unaccountable fleet with big ships and they destroyed the stock,” Mr. Baker said. “We need accountability.”

The $5 million Norpel processing plant on New Bedford’s Fish Island was built in 2000 to process herring and mackerel. The plant processes and freezes approximately 50,000 metric tons of herring and mackerel each year that is sold as bait and food to customers around the world.

Billie Schofield, the plant’s general manager, did not return calls seeking comment on how the freezer ship might affect his shoreside business.

Mr. Odlin said he did not want to speak for Norpel but that he thinks there is “enough fish to go around.”

Built in 1985, the American Freedom served as a salmon processor in Seattle for a short time but “has remained berthed for most of its life,” according to documents from Atlantic Pelagic Seafood. The company has spent more than $24 million converting the vessel to a freezer ship.

While at sea, the ship’s 50-member crew will include five seamen, 10 officers and 35 crewmen who will freeze the fish.

Contact Becky W. Evans at revans@s-t.com

Date of Publication: December 08, 2006 on Page A05

Share Economic Development Ideas with Governor-Elect Patrick’s Job’s Task Force

Please come to a meeting to help Governor-Elect Deval Patrick’s administration set its strategy for business growth and economic development. The Governor-Elect has formed a number of task forces to assist him in developing policy around key issues that impact our state.

This Tuesday, December 5th, the Economic Development transition task force will hold a public meeting from 2pm to 3:30pm at the UMass Star Store Campus, 715 Purchase Street, New Bedford, Mass. to review the new administration’s economic development priorities. Transition team members Bill Davis and Susan Whitehead will represent the task force.

Seating will be limited to about 60 people. If you are interested in attending this forum please RSVP at your earliest convenience to Catherine Rollins at Mayor Lang’s office. The number is 508-979-1410.