Keep the supermarket, lose the SSA’s auto and truck traffic


The 1970s were busy for the Steamship Authority. It gobbled up the Vineyard Haven waterfront between the old steamship wharf, with its huge shed filled with dolly freight, and the Douglas brothers’ property, now the collection of Black Dog businesses. The waterfront meal included the Seaman’s Bethel, which occupied roughly the space now occupied by the Vineyard Haven Ticket Office, the Crowell Coal Company, and the Tilton Lumber Company. Oh, and there was a hot dog stand, the Dog House, opposite what was then the SBS building and is now a tee-shirt and gift shop and the Porto restaurant.

Besides the real estate acquisitions, the Steamship Authority applied to the spanking fresh Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) for permission to rebuild its Vineyard Haven terminal and add a second slip. Ultimately the MVC agreed that, yes, the boatline could rebuilt and improve the wharf, but no, the boatline could not add a second slip. The commission’s reasoning, and the widely held view of public officials from several towns as well as ordinary Islanders, was that the second slip would enable enormous auto and truck traffic growth that would cripple downtown Vineyard Haven, Five Corners, and Beach Road.

The Steamship Authority appealed that decision in court, but lost. The Steamship Authority, the courts held, had to submit to the development of regional interest oversight and authority, embodied in the 1974 state enabling legislation that created the regional planning and regulatory agency.

Unwilling to take no for an answer, the Steamship Authority turned to the legislature, which passed a law exempting the boatline from the MVC’s jurisdiction.

While the Steamship Authority was getting its way, however it had to maneuver to do so, a fervent but feeble lobby urged the Steamship Authority to remove its auto/freight traffic from downtown to the shoal water east of R. M. Packer Company’s tank farm along the Beach Road before the drawbridge. It was a well developed citizens proposal, complete with a carefully built model of the rebuilt Vineyard Haven waterfront, without the boatline, and a model of the filled wharf terminal where cars and trucks would land at the new location.

It was brought to mind the plan proposed by Metcalf and Eddy years before that called for a new town to be built at the head of the Lagoon, near where the Roundabout now sits. That was where the Steamship Authority terminal was to be relocated.

The theory was that vehicle traffic arriving at the head of the Lagoon would have easy access up and down Island. Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs downtowns would not be overrun.

Something almost as neat would be accomplished by the move from the downtown Vineyard Haven waterfront, leaving the Steamship Authority to run smaller, passenger only vessels into the heart of town.

John Gallagher’s letter [In Vineyard Haven, the SSA is the problem, August 7] last week recalls that history of 40 years ago.

The Steamship Authority, now contemplating a $50 million new vessel to replace the Governor, has the wherewithal to improve its terminal function, along with the traveling experience of its customers, by moving its auto/freight landings and departures out of Vineyard Haven. Doing so would be a priceless benefit to the Vineyard Haven community also.

But, the Steamship Authority needs a strategic vision that embraces such a plan. And, that vision needs the determined support of town and Island leaders and residents. And it needs the planning resources of the MVC.

The Stop & Shop, now under MVC review as a development of regional interest, belongs in its current location, and it needs to be upgraded. The Steamship Authority’s vehicle/freight operations belong elsewhere.