Board representation, truck traffic at center of SSA petition

Ferry service says it tries to act on concerns raised by Woods Hole residents.

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Some Falmouth residents may feel like the Steamship Authority project in Woods Hole is like this dark cloud over the Island Home at the Vineyard Haven docks. —George Brennan

A change.org petition asks Gov. Charlie Baker and other state leaders to intervene on their behalf with regard to the ongoing $63 million construction project underway at the Steamship Authority terminal in Woods Hole.

The petition, which had been signed by 146 people as of Tuesday, complains that the authority’s board of directors is heavily weighted toward the Islands.

“The SSA’s Board of Directors has been dismissive of our concerns without giving us a genuine hearing, nor have they offered a single significant compromise to our appeals,” the petition states. “The operations managers and staff’s efforts to mitigate problems have been almost entirely ineffective.”

The petition also seeks to have freight be brought to Martha’s Vineyard via New Bedford, something the SSA is currently studying. A consultant’s report on the freight study is due by the end of the summer, though a previous venture proved too costly. The petition also calls for quiet times between 10 pm and 6:30 am, with several people who’ve signed the petition specifically complaining about so-called “jake-braking” by trucks. Jake-braking is the use of air brakes, with the release of exhaust creating a loud noise described sometimes as sounding like a gunshot.

The petition drive comes as a group of Woods Hole residents was ineffective in blocking a permit for slip work at the Woods Hole ferry terminal.

Wayne Lamson, general manager of the Steamship Authority, told The Times the ferry service has attempted to be responsive to concerns about trucks, asking drivers not to arrive before 5 am in Woods Hole, and using ferries that don’t require trucks to back onto them and, thus, limiting noise from backup alarms. SSA has also posted signs in Woods Hole asking truckers to limit idling, and on Route 28 alerting them that trucks should not arrive before 5 am. “We don’t want them here before 5, disrupting neighbors,” Mr. Lamson said.

Delivery trucks, particularly those making multiple stops at food stores, do like to get to the Vineyard on the 5:30 am boat, to make deliveries ahead of traffic congestion on the Island, he said.

Concerns raised about the authority adding ferries to its schedule are unfounded, Mr. Lamson said. A third slip, which SSA already has, is only used to store boats or for emergencies. The lack of space for cars and trucks to queue up for ferry loading already limits the number of ferries that can be scheduled from Woods Hole, Mr. Lamson said.

Anne Halpin, who has lived on Woods Hole Road in Falmouth for 25 years, said she’s seen increased traffic on the streets leading to the ferry, particularly truck traffic bringing goods to the Island.

“Early-morning traffic adds to our pain,” Ms. Halpin said, explaining why she signed the petition. “People on-Island don’t seem to care at all, as long as they get what they want. The Island, I know, feels impact of traffic, but opening the faucet on our side to a greater extent is going to add to their problem.”

Truck traffic has picked up in recent years, Mr. Lamson said, after a lull in 2008 and 2009 caused by the recession, which limited construction vehicles. But more than 60 percent of trucks on the ferries headed to Martha’s Vineyard are either pickups or trucks under 20 feet, he said.

A concern raised in the petition about representation on the SSA board is something that was studied more than 15 years ago, Mr. Lamson said. At the time, Barnstable was added as a voting member with the blessing of Falmouth selectmen, and New Bedford had a nonvoting member added to the board, he said.

Mr. Lamson said residents are welcome to attend meetings of the board to raise objections to schedules or other issues on the board’s agendas. “They’re not very well attended,” he said.