Falmouth SSA member Robert Marshall resigns

Falmouth SSA member Robert Marshall resigns

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

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.


  1. I think alot of us would like to just turn back the clock when the SSA wasnt the monster it is now. All the things they said that would reduce costs havent. Also I can see where businesses in woodshole would complain about the elimination of guaranteed standby because we would all stand in line eat , drink , and shop while waiting.

    1. Not sure if they want guaranteed standby back. I think this article might be insinuating that they were dredging up the past by bringing up guaranteed standby which has not been happening for years.

      Mr. Marshall leaving is a huge loss because he was a personable face for the SSA. The management of the SSA, not the governors, are truly detached from the real happenings of the SSA.

      1. Idk I wasnt at the meeting. I patronized the donut shop, ice cream store and pharmacy quite often when in standby. Most of my friends would go to the leeside. Now its get in line and presto you are on the boat in minutes. Not even time to visit the bathroom.

        1. I agree. I am amazed that in a time of so many other good choices for places to visit, nantucket, block island, stay on the cape, not to mentioned other states like Newport R.I. or Maine that the SSA doesn’t embrace more customer service orientated polices by bringing guaranteed standby back. I agree that more people would patronize Woods Hole while waiting. It beats sending a car down Woods Hole Road once, turning it away because there is no guaranteed standby and having them travel back up Woods Hole Road a second time in 10 minutes.

    2. I blame management for his departure. They have done nothing to react to communities concerns let alone listen to them. Why haven’t they been engaging the community for the last 10 years? They do what they want, when they want and usually wrong.

      Why have idea and proposals not been brought to the governing board to cut costs. The union reduction is huge. In the past there were 20 people standing around and 15 looked busy. Today there are 15 people standing around with 5 doing work. They are slow to react (management) just like their staff is. How many times does the traffic have to back up toward (not to) Woods Hole Road to to force action by the staff to make the line move? How many times does the line have to back up to the drawbridge till the SSA staff realizes that they need to open a second lane for check in? Who operates a company that services the public where the phone reservation system stops getting answered at 4:30 in the afternoon? What company takes your luggage on a luggage cart outside, not watch it, moves it inside and keeps it un manned and unlocked for others to go up and take things out and to take luggage off prior to the carts depature? It’s a joke, always has been, always will be.

      1. Never had a problem with the luggage rack. Yes I would put something on it so someone on the other side would get it. Also had kids ride the boat unattended. We sure dont need any more rules that drive costs up. Thats what happened to our school system.

        1. The question is with Mr. Marshall gone does Woods Hole become a robust area once again (like back in the guaranteed standby days) for restaurants, coffee shops and bars? Will the new Falmouth member be forced to listen to a few disgruntled neighbors that bought on a state highway years ago and now want to change people from using it?

  2. Falmouth will never allow G. standby again. Is it to much to ask for Falmouth to try it again on a part time trial? Say 6 months? If it works, like I believe it will, make it permanent.

    1. Falmouth is unlikely to give up their bike path without a fight. A big one. Plus maybe a very large sum of money.

    2. That’s a shame. Mr Marshall was a good man and a knowledgeable business person. The very same people he fought for turned against him. Time to run this SSA like a business and bring back standby and make some money to reduce ticket prices. With a new boat on the horizon why do they need so many people standing around collecting a wage to do nothing. Woods Hole is a joke with all the staff they have watching each other.

  3. Now that there’s some fallout from this proposal, some “blood on the floor”, maybe Islanders, and their newspapers, will pay attention to a project that could cost nearly fifty million dollars.

    Vineyarders should learn more about the total and astonishingly expensive changes the SSA wants in Woods Hole. The cost will affect your rates, you can be sure of that. This is project that proposes to make three fully functional transfer bridges that would extend 50 to 70 further into Woods Hole Harbor.

    Remember when the SSA added a slip in Vineyard Haven and said they wouldn’t use it much? Wouldn’t three big new slips in Woods Hole mean more ferry traffic?

    The SSA has a designs summary available online. If you know where to look. It takes four clicks and a download to get to. Here’s the link, to make it easier for you to see the “three concepts” they’re advancing.


  4. I’m not surprised to see the sentiment set forth in the comments. I have to agree. I ride the SSA as a commuter, almost daily. Last week I tried to put my 12.8 year old son on the 8:15 boat from WH to VH. The plan was for him to be picked up and brought to school. Unfortunately, the powers that be felt it was more important to enforce their no kids under 13 riding alone policy than it was for my son to get to school. SSA, you have lost my vote.

  5. With all the cash spent on boat rides to MV they could have built a bridge. The faster they get here the sooner they leave. In just a few years union staffing pensions will be totally out of control. Guess who’s going to eat that?

  6. It is time, once again, to think New Bedford. Once that decision is made you will then begin to realize and ask yourself why it took so long. Imagine how much easier it will be to to get to New York and Boston without hitting traffic in both Falmouth and the Bridge.