Steamship Authority ready for busy weekend

While search begins for consultant, construction at ferry terminal will end for busy holiday weekend.

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Passengers arrive in Vineyard Haven off the Island Home for Memorial Day weekend. — Gabrielle Mannino

Within days of a contentious meeting on Martha’s Vineyard where frustrated Island leaders, business owners, and residents lashed out at Steamship Authority officials, the ferry operator began advertising to seek bids from potential management consultants.

The advertisement, which appears in this issue of The Times, provides information to potential consultants on how to get the RFP from the Steamship Authority’s procurement officer. It sets a June 12 deadline at 2 pm for all bids to be submitted at the SSA’s Falmouth headquarters.

“I’m told there’s already been interest from a couple of parties, so that’s a good sign,” Marc Hanover, the Martha’s Vineyard representative to the SSA board, told The Times. “I look forward to seeing the responses.”

Hanover said he expects a consultant to be chosen at the board’s June 19 meeting at 9:30 am at the SSA’s Hyannis terminal.

It was Hanover, with the strong backing of the Island community, who pushed for his fellow board members to support a full review of the Steamship Authority over the past few months.

The 50-page RFP details the mechanical problems the SSA has had with its ferries beginning on March 15, and escalating on March 17 when passengers were stranded for five hours at sea because the MV Martha’s Vineyard lost power during a run between Vineyard Haven and Woods Hole. Issues with the Martha’s Vineyard, which had just returned from an $18 million midlife refurbishment, and the MV Woods Hole are chronicled. Communication issues relaying the problems to the public and issues with the SSA information technology systems, including a website crash just as reservations were being accepted for the summer, are also part of the scope for the consultant.

Work continued this week at the Woods Hole terminal, where construction issues have compounded some of the mechanical issues. On May 5, for example, a mechanical breakdown with the Martha’s Vineyard as it backed out of the slip created a ripple effect because the two slips in Woods Hole were occupied by ferries that couldn’t move. Passengers and vehicles were stranded on both sides of the Sound for as much as four hours before the MV Katama and MV Martha’s Vineyard were moved out of the way.

There should be no such issues this coming weekend, at least with slip space in Woods Hole.

The SSA sent out a press release Tuesday afternoon saying that repairs to fenders in Slip 1 and Slip 2 in Woods Hole have been completed, passenger ramps are in place and operational, and both bus shelters and passenger queuing areas have been installed and are ready for the busy Memorial Day weekend.

The contractor, Jay Cashman Inc., will suspend any further construction Thursday afternoon in Woods Hole until Tuesday, the release states.

Hanover said he’s encouraged both by the construction and the RFP process being underway. In recent days, other than a brief hiccup over the weekend with the Katama, the ferries have been performing the way they’re supposed to, he said.

“I just feel a real sense of urgency to let the public know we’re up and operating on time,” Hanover said. “Everything’s coming together, and we’re going to provide quality service to our customers.”