Editorial: Brutal truth for us, and now Falmouth

Every Vineyard heart must go out to our Falmouth and Woods Hole confreres, as they confront multi-million dollar plans entertained by the Steamship Authority to revamp its Woods Hole terminal. The boatline and its planners, contemplating three possible new looks for the drab and confusing arrangement of headquarters, slips, staging, parking, and public transport that is the mainland hub for more than half the customers and traffic that the ferry service accommodates, demonstrate no intention of involving its neighbors in the decision making. As illustrations [Falmouth member Robert Marshall resigns, November 21] published in The Times make clear, the Steamship Authority members want something more modern, more efficient, and utterly uncongenial with everything else that makes Woods Hole the nifty little port and academic/scientific center that it is.

Residents along the Woods Hole Road, a passage that SSA members like to inflate by calling it a state highway, understand that in its planning the SSA envisions growth to come. That means property owners along what is an overused town street can expect to see more cars, more trucks, and more Islanders and visitors racing to the boat.

Falmouth residents, Woods Hole residents, and especially residents along the Woods Hole Road have hated the abuse of their neighborhood by the Steamship Authority for decades. Their unrestrained wroth, touched off by the Steamship Authority members’ unveiling of its plans recently, struck Falmouth member Bob Marshall as so unreasonable and abusive that he quit the job. But, what should he have expected? Why should Woods Hole, Falmouth, and Woods Hole Road residents be any happier with the baleful influence of the Steamship Authority on their neighborhood than Vineyard Haven residents, in their turn, are about the terminal that hogs their town’s waterfront? And, for all that the Steamship Authority members say that they will hear and respond to neighbors’ complaints, Falmouth and Woods Hole residents know that that is just lip service.

In the 1970s, the Steamship Authority gobbled up the Vineyard Haven waterfront. Town residents wanted the Steamship Authority to move to the outer harbor. The Steamship Authority wouldn’t entertain the idea. The boatline, briefly subject to regulation by the brand new Martha’s Vineyard Commission, applied instead to the commission for permission to rebuild its Vineyard Haven terminal and add a second slip. Ultimately the MVC agreed that, yes, the boatline could rebuild 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 its pals in the legislature, which passed a law exempting the boatline from the MVC’s jurisdiction.

Similarly, the Steamship Authority today knows that it is exempt from regulation by Falmouth or by the Cape Cod Commission, whose structure, and limitations, were written to mirror those of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

The Steamship Authority’s vision is to do what it has always done, as it has always done it, to do it where it has always done it, to do more of it, and to deflect efforts by its transportation partners in Vineyard Haven and Woods Hole that might lead it to consider new strategies in new places.