To the Editor:
For those of us who live in the vicinity of Woods Hole Terminal, or in the vicinity of Woods Hole Road or the other roads on the Steamship Authority truck’ route to Woods Hole Terminal, the 5:30 am freight ferry is not just an inconvenience, or a nuisance, or something that bothers us from time to time. It’s an abomination.
Steamship Authority trucks barrel down Woods Hole Road, seemingly intent to be the first to arrive at the tick of 5 am at the Woods Hole Terminal. This is happening not at 6:50, or 5:50, but at 4:50 am.
Prior to 2015, there was no 5:30 am freight ferry from Woods Hole in the fall and winter months. Prior to 2013, there was no 5:30 am freight ferry from Woods Hole in the early spring months. Prior to 2012, there was no 5:30 am freight ferry from Woods Hole at all.
SSA board and port council members anticipated that there might be trouble with the noise from such early freight ferry activity. I quote from the October 2011 board meeting minutes: “Mr. Hanover … cautioned that there should not be any excessive noise in either Woods Hole or Vineyard Haven, observing that if the authority’s operations begin to cause problems at that time of the morning, the early trips may have to be discontinued.” “Excessive noise” has indeed occurred since the early freight schedule was introduced in 2012, just as Mr. Hanover feared. But no “discontinuing” of the early freight ferry has followed, despite complaint after complaint after complaint from Falmouth and Woods Hole residents.
What do Falmouth and Woods Hole residents think of the deafening noise of trucks when they are trying to get a good night’s sleep in their own homes? Well, the Steamship Authority need only read our petitions and written submitted comments to the Steamship board and port council.
More than 135 Falmouth residents signed a petition in January 2016 stating they were opposed to the 5:30 am freight ferry and associated truck noise. No changes were made to the schedule. In September 2016, 45 public comments were submitted to the Steamship, at the email address publicized in the newspaper announcement of a schedule change, but were not presented to the board. It was not until a month later that we realized that the board had already voted on the 2017 schedule, but had not seen those 45 comments. We were told that there had been a computer error. The board received our comments at the next month’s meeting, but then spent less than five minutes discussing those comments.
Again, in January 2017, Falmouth residents submitted 35 individual comments asking that freight be eliminated prior to 6:30 am. It was irritating, at best, to observe the general manager then present our public comment to the SSA board saying we were opposed to any ferries prior to 6:30 am. Our request was completely different; it only concerned freight ferries. Again, the SSA board spent less than 5 minutes discussing our comments. I have a personal favor to ask of SSA staff and board members: Please read our public comments. I have not yet mentioned the port council. Their vote on schedule changes regularly takes place before the official window of the 30-day public comment period on schedule changes closes.
Falmouth selectmen since the fall of 2016 have made a very reasonable suggestion: Take the 5:30 boat over without trucks if it’s so needed on the Vineyard.
There are so many examples of compromise that the Steamship could follow in working with its host community of Falmouth and Woods Hole. The Barnstable Municipal Airport experience is especially informative. After resident complaints, the airport offered to institute voluntary quiet hours.
Our Falmouth and Woods Hole communities are fragile, not unlike those of the Island communities. Sound travels easily through our neighborhoods, including across water.
We are asking for the support of Vineyard residents. To be more specific:
We request the establishment of voluntary quiet hours on the part of the Steamship Authority for its freight truck traffic on Palmer Avenue, North Main Street, Locust Street, Woods Hole Road, and in Woods Hole village between 10 pm and 6:30 am. The sleep deprivation that the Steamship Authority is now causing Falmouth residents is unacceptable.
We believe our request is reasonable. The SSA describes their mission as a balance of interests, but it’s not even close. We understand the SSA’s fundamental mission to provide for the necessities of the Islands. Who could ever object? But, please, not at the complete expense of any consideration of the quality of life of the residents of the SSA’s host communities. (I might point out that in conversations with Island residents, they express a great deal more sympathy for our plight as a host community than we have ever heard from the SSA.)
There has been no compromise on the part of the Steamship. We are still being asked to tolerate truck noise beginning at 5 am for a full seven months of the years. The SSA continues to ignore us.