Falmouth SSA member Robert Marshall resigns

Robert Marshall has resigned as Falmouth member of the Steamship Authority.
File photo by Ralph Stewart

Robert Marshall has resigned as Falmouth member of the Steamship Authority.

Thursday evening in Woods Hole, Steamship Authority (SSA), members and management, along with architects Bertaux + Iwerks presented three preliminary designs for the Woods Hole terminal renovation and inadvertently tapped into a wellspring of simmering anger among Woods Hole residents. The informal gathering was intended to acquaint residents with the possible changes and begin a conversation between the SSA and its Woods Hole neighbors, many of them not feeling very neighborly. The gathering became contentious, and in its wake, longtime Falmouth member Robert Marshall resigned.

“I can’t stress enough what a loss this is to the board,” Mark Hanover, Martha’s Vineyard SSA board member, said of his former colleague. Mr. Hanover has worked with Mr. Marshall for the past 11 years. “He’s experienced in finance, he knows boats, and he knows the town of Falmouth. He is without question the best representative Falmouth has ever had. This is a major loss for the Steamship Authority. I can’t imagine finding anybody comparable. His quote to me is that he went home [after the meeting] and his blood pressure was through the roof and he said ‘I don’t need this.’” Mr. Hanover, sitting at a booth at his Oak Bluffs restaurant, Linda Jean’s, recalled his conversation with Mr. Marshall.

Mr. Marshall, the former principal managing director of Gordon Brothers Group LLC, of Boston, an international retail, finance, and asset management firm, has served the Falmouth community in a variety of elected, appointed, and volunteer positions. He served as Falmouth town moderator for seven years and is a former trustee of the Falmouth Hospital Foundation and former director of the Falmouth Chamber of Commerce. He was also chairman of the Falmouth finance committee for four years, where he earned a reputation for straight talk, fiscal constraint, and skill in tackling tough issues.

“It was just a preliminary meeting,” said Mr. Hanover. “At this point it’s just concepts. It could happen in two years, it could happen in 10 years. There were a few very nasty and uninformed people there who chose to attack Bob Marshall and the Steamship Authority. They were even yelling about guaranteed standby. We haven’t had that in five years.”

Mr. Hanover credited Catherine Bumpus, co-president of Woods Hole Community Association, for trying to keep the meeting focused on the the terminal renovation plans. But outrage about an escalation in traffic and aesthetic concerns spilled over into personal attacks.

In a telephone interview with The Times, Ms. Bumpus said she felt the meeting spun out of control in large part because of an historic lack of outreach by the SSA.

“The Steamship doesn’t come out to the community enough,” she said. “If people don’t have the opportunity to raise objections, they’re going to spill over. There are a lot of concerns that the community has about the Steamship as a neighbor. So they came to the public for input on this plan, and they heard a lot of other things.”

“It’s the same crowd, the same nonsense,” Mr. Hanover said. “People who live along Woods Hole Road bought houses on a state highway, and now they’re upset because there’s trucks on it. They’re against us being there. They think we should be in New Bedford where we’re wanted.”

“It doesn’t look like a state highway,” said Ms. Bumpus. “When a boat unloads it’s impossible to get on Woods Hole Road. It’s scary when you have an 18-wheeler barreling down that road going 50 miles an hour when you’re trying to turn out of your driveway. You don’t have to worry about that on the Vineyard.” Ms. Bumpus said the proposed addition of a third boat slip, meant adding even more traffic for weary Woods Hole residents.

Mr. Hanover disagreed. “What’s ironic is the new proposed building is 10,000 square feet,” said Mr. Hanover. “The one that’s there now is 20,000 square feet. It’s half the size, but they didn’t want to hear that. The flow would be much smoother and much safer for our customers. They didn’t believe that. It’s all about truck traffic. Their message is go to New Bedford: they want you, we don’t.”

Ms. Bumpus said that traffic issues aside, there were objections to the designs of the proposed terminal. “They’re also talking about a raised deck, all the way across from the Crane Street bridge. There will be 16 feet of clearance so tractor trailers can get under them and an enclosed walkway. It’s like an airline concourse. Airline terminal concourses don’t feel like a small Cape Cod community. I don’t think they would want that in Vineyard Haven or Hyannis or Oak Bluffs either. The architects say the enclosed walkway will be clear, so it won’t have a visual impact, but anyone who lives near water knows they’ll be covered with salt. It will have a huge visual impact.”

“She’s right,” said Mr. Hanover. “That’s what we were there to talk about. After that meeting, I revamped my thinking about the whole thing. The terminal should be smaller.”

Mr. Hanover said that he looks forward to working with Ms. Bumpus, but he won’t subject himself to another meeting like the one on Thursday night.

“If they want to get together a small working group of three or four people, I’m sure the board would be happy to meet and listen to their concerns,” he said. We [SSA] can’t change what we are, and we can’t change what we have to do. But we can certainly respond to their concerns.”

The SSA does not require approval from the Cape Cod Commission or the town of Falmouth for the design or construction of the renovated terminal.

“These slips are shot, the building’s starting to sink,” said Mr. Hanover. “It’s an old railroad shack, over 100 years old. It’s a mess, it’s the only facility that has not been redone by the Steamship Authority and desperately needs it. It’s going to happen.” Referring to Mr. Marshall, he said, “It’s just ironic that a guy who’s been such a good representative of Woods Hole and the Falmouth community is not going to be there when it’s done.”

Several calls to Mr. Marshall and to Wayne Lamson, Steamship Authority general manager, were not returned.