SSA board bans vaping and weed on its property and vessels

Idea of R.M. Packer Co. shipping rubbish gains steam.

Steven Sayers discusses the merits of shipping trash from Martha's Vineyard by barge as SSA general manager Robert Davis listens. - Rich Saltzberg

At Highfield Hall in Falmouth Tuesday morning, the full board of the Steamship Authority voted unanimously to amend smoking regulations to ban vaping and marijuana use.

The board also listened to a report from general counsel Steven Sayers on the possible merits of R.M. Packer Co. shipping Island rubbish off-Island by barge, as opposed to the current method of ferrying truckloads.

SSA general manager Robert Davis told the board that changes to the smoking policy were necessary in light of the prevalence of electronic cigarettes and vaping devices. Changes to Massachusetts law with regard to marijuana also necessitated the change in SSA policy. With no debate and no questions or comments from the audience, the board voted unanimously to approve the changes to the smoking policy.

Mr. Sayers told the board that two previous studies of shipping trash by barge off the Vineyard may have reached flawed negative assessments, and that SSA administration was beginning to see barge logistics as a potential alternative to the truck system used now. However, he cautioned, further study was needed. He told the board R.M. Packer Co. has been at the center of SSA thinking on the matter in no small part because of the facility the company owns in New Bedford. More and more trash is anticipated to move by rail, Mr. Sayers noted. He pointed out that Packer’s facility in New Bedford is conveniently nearby a spur rail line. Via the spur, trash hauled over from the Vineyard could travel to Ohio, where much of the commonwealth’s future waste is forecast to go, he said.

While Island waste is presently trucked to a landfill primarily for the use of New Bedford and Dartmouth, those municipalities may look to their own needs and not continue to agree to take on Island waste.

One factor to consider in switching from trucks to barges, Mr. Sayer pointed out, is that trucks regularly haul return loads of gravel, mulch, and other bulk material. He did not discuss the logistic or economic value of the return loads, however.

Carl Walker, SSA director of maintenance and engineering, reported to the board that the drydock portion of the MV Martha’s Vineyard refurbishment is complete, and that the boat will be refloated “on or about Jan. 3rd.” Ninety percent of the new passenger decks are finished, and approximately 90 percent of the hull painting is complete, he said. He anticipates the vessel will be back in service by March 3. “It’s starting to look like a new boat,” he said.

Mr. Davis added that the SSA has to date tendered $8.5 million of the $17.5 contract to Senesco Marine, a boatbuilding company in Rhode Island, or about 46 percent.

In other business, the board elected Robert Ranney, the board’s Nantucket representative, as 2018 chairman. They voted in Barnstable representative Robert Jones as vice-chairman, and Martha’s Vineyard representative Marc Hanover as board secretary.

The board received an update on the $43 million contract awarded for the new terminal building in Woods Hole to Jay Cashman’s construction company. The old terminal is scheduled to be demolished in late February after administrative offices are moved into the new building on Palmer Avenue in Falmouth. A temporary terminal building is up and running to sell tickets to Woods Hole passengers. Mr. Davis told the board that Jay Cashman will begin work shortly after the New Year, and start by rerouting electric and telecommunication lines from the vicinity of Slip 3.