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SSA

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The Steamship Authority met Tuesday and approved 2015 winter and spring operating schedules.

The SSA's newest ferry is designed to carry freight trucks and passengers. — Illustration courtesy of the Steamship Authority

The Steamship Authority (SSA) met Tuesday morning in Vineyard Haven and voted on a name for its new $43 million passenger/vehicle ferry, approved 2015 winter and spring operating schedules, and promised new changes down the line that will include improved passenger WiFi and electronic passenger ticketing.

Tisbury selectman Melinda Loberg expressed concern about shoaling in the harbor linked to the need for SSA ferries to turn around.
Tisbury selectman Melinda Loberg expressed concern about shoaling in the harbor linked to the need for SSA ferries to turn around.

The SSA had narrowed the name choices for its new ferry, scheduled to replace the Governor in spring 2016, to Quissett and Woods Hole. On a motion by Falmouth member Catherine Norton, seconded by Vineyard member Marc Hanover, the board voted on Woods Hole.

A contract for the boat’s construction is expected to be awarded in December. The single-ended boat will have an uncovered back deck and be capable of carrying 384 passengers and 50-55 cars or 10 semi-trailer trucks. It will serve as a replacement for the aged Governor, which will be sold or scrapped. The Governor’s new $3 million engines will replace the engines on the Sankaty, SSA general manager Wayne Lamson said.

In response to questions from Tisbury harbormaster Jay Wilbur, Mr. Lamson explained that the decision to go with a single end design as opposed to a double-ender was based on cost and the need to service Nantucket. A double-ender would have exceeded the authority’s budget, he said.

The SSA approved the 2015 spring and winter operating schedules with few changes from last year. The winter schedule will start four days later, on January 6, and end one day later, on April 14. The spring schedule will start one day earlier, on April 15, and end one day later, on May 14.

Mr. Lamson also presented the board members with a list of proposed goals for the next 12 months. Mr. Lamson said his goals include oversight of several SSA construction and maintenance projects, as well as improved passenger WiFi and an electronic ticketing system that would allow passengers to purchase tickets online.

Business report

SSA board member Marc Hanover listens to the opinion of his fellow board members.
SSA board member Marc Hanover listens to the opinion of his fellow board members.

Total operating revenues for May increased by $163,317, or 1.9 percent versus the amount projected in the 2014 operating budget, for a total of $8,821,483 in operating revenues. Passenger revenues for the month were up $53,000 versus budget projections, which represents a 2 percent increase. Automobile revenues were up $33,000, or 1.3 percent, versus projections for May. Freight revenues were up $80,000, or 3.1 percent, versus budget projections for the month.

Year-to-date operating revenues through May increased by $496,553, or 2.1 percent, versus the amount projected in the 2014 operating budget, for a total of $24,532,583. Passenger revenues for the year were up $57,000 versus budget projections, which represents a 0.9 percent increase. Automobile revenues were up $14,000, or 0.2 percent, versus budget projections for the year. Freight revenues were up $334,000, or 3.8 percent, versus budget projections for the year. Year-to-date, the vessels have made 7,312 trips. This represents a decrease of 114 trips, or 1.55 percent versus budget.

The SSA transferred a $2.9 million surplus to the special purpose fund, which will go towards the new Woods Hole terminal and ferry slip repairs. A price estimate for the project, expected to be between $40 and 60 million, will be presented by the architecture firm Bertaux+Iwerks by the end of the year.

SSA board members Catherine Norton of Falmouth and Jack Tierney of New Bedford did not attend the meeting, but they participated via conference call.

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An aerial view of the Woods Hole Steamship Authority terminal shows the two slips, parking area and ticket and administration building. — Photo courtesy of Google Maps

The Steamship Authority (SSA) Tuesday approved a revised design concept for the Woods Hole terminal that addressed concerns that the distance between the passenger dropoff and pickup areas and the ferry slips.

The SSA plans to refurbish two slips and move a third ferry slip slightly to the south of it present location on the north side of the current terminal, which would be demolished and rebuilt in a new location. The SSA would also reconfigure the parking lots and bus lanes. The design, known as Concept E, will advance to final design, cost estimate, and permitting stages once a feasibility study is completed in July by the firm Bertaux + Iwerks Architects.

“There was no opposition to concept E,” SSA general manager Wayne Lamson said in a telephone conversation with The Times following the meeting on Tuesday. “We approved it unanimously. This is the best plan we have considered, resolves many of the issues we confronted, and was one of the cheapest alternatives. There’s always tradeoffs, but this new design has more benefits than any of the others.”

Several previous concepts were eliminated on the basis of cost, distance from the new building to the walk-on ramps, elevation adjustments to meet post-Hurricane Sandy regulations, and opposition from residents and businesses in Woods Hole concerned about water views and noise.

Mr. Lamson emphasized the timetable and importance of the changes. “All the bulkheads are starting to reach their life expectancy, and we should replace them when we can, not when we have to,” he said. “The new slip will be where the building is now, so we need to move that. It will be approximately where the busses are now. We are also consolidating parking. This concept is still being fine-tuned, for the permitting process, which will take between 18 and 24 months once the architects complete their feasibility plan, which we’re hoping to wrap up next month.”

The project is estimated to cost $45 to $65 million, primarily because of the slip replacements.

A more accurate number will be presented at the authority’s 2015 operating budget meeting in September, once a cost evaluation has been completed by the architecture firm. Funding will come primarily from the authority’s replacement fund, as well as possible federal funding and rate increases.

“The replacement fund receives $9 million each year, and if we can earmark 75 percent of that for Woods Hole, it will pay for the $30 million required to replace the bulkheads,” Mr. Lamson said. “We don’t have a solid estimate for the overall cost, but we considered projects ranging from $45 to $65 million. We’re also going to look into federal grants. Rate increases are a last resort but would happen anyway as operating costs increase.”

He said the 2015 operating budget will also include a five-year projection, which will specify any rate increases.

Mark Hanover, Martha’s Vineyard SSA board member, said the work is necessary, but he is concerned about costs.

“This is work that desperately needs to be done,” he said in a conversation with The Times prior to the meeting. “I would love to do the Cadillac design, if that won’t impact the Island. I couldn’t vote for the last two. If I don’t see how we can do it affordably, then I won’t support it, but this seems to be the best plan.”

“We should have a final model and cost estimate by the end of the year. I don’t think this will change rates, but through the years they’re going to go up. For now, reservations are up, and we’re hoping for a good summer.”

The SSA is also constructing a new freight/passenger ferry. A contract will be awarded at end of the year, aimed at putting the ferry in operation for the summer of 2016.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the SSA has only two slips. It has three slips.

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The SSA approved this version of the new Woods Hole terminal design. — Illustration courtesy of the Steamship Authority

The Steamship Authority (SSA) Tuesday approved a “preferred alternative” design concept for a new Woods Hole terminal with the caveat that “the site’s accessibility is improved for individuals with disabilities between the ferry slips and the proposed customer drop-off and pick-up areas,” according to a management report of the meeting.

The design concept features a large area for vehicles to line up directly on the waterfront, with a two-story terminal building about 240 feet back from the slips, and a shuttle bus drop-off area behind the terminal.

The board met Tuesday in New Bedford. Bertaux + Iwerks Architects will now create cost estimates and conceptual drawings.

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The SSA approved this version of the new Woods Hole terminal design. — Illustration courtesy of the Steamship Authority

The Steamship Authority presented a revised design of its proposed new Woods Hole terminal at its monthly meeting Tuesday. The new plan incorporated several changes intended to mollify critics.

At the request of the Woods Hole community working group, SSA management had asked Bertaux + Iwerks Architects to evaluate several possible variations of the “single level” and “split level” alternative design concepts presented last November.

The size of the proposed terminal has been reduced to be more in line with the Vineyard Haven terminal, according to a management synopsis of the meeting, and it will be two stories to reduce its footprint and open up water views.

Other modifications include adding a plaza area and eliminating an elevated passenger walkway between the terminal and ferry slips. The SSA members will consider management’s recommended design when it meets next month.

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The Steamship Authority hopes to have a new freight vessel in service within two years.

The new vessel is designed to carry 10 tractor trailer trucks and 385 passengers. — Illustration by Elliott Bay Desi

The Steamship Authority (SSA) is finalizing design plans for a new freight ferry intended to take some of the pressure off larger boats carrying freight and passengers to and from the Islands.

The SSA board is also engaged in the design process for a new terminal in Woods Hole that has raised the hackles of some residents the small port community who object to its proposed size and location.

Marc Hanover, Vineyard SSA member, estimates it will be two years before the launch of the new ferry. He made the rounds of local government boards last week to update town leaders on plans for the new boat, as well as plans for the new terminal.

Preliminary plans for the new freight vessel show a 235-foot boat capable of carrying 10 fully loaded tractor trailer trucks, or 55 cars, as well as 385 passengers.

The aft part of the freight deck is open, a feature which will save costs.
The aft part of the freight deck is open, a feature which will save costs.

Cost estimates of the new boat vary widely, depending on options and contingencies, but Mr. Hanover said the price tag is beginning to firm up. “I think the boat is going to come in at about $35 million,” he said in a meeting with Dukes County Commissioners at their April 9 meeting. “The Steamship Authority has ample replacement funds. This should not affect fares.”

Designed by the Seattle firm Elliott Bay Design Group, the vessel features a drive on, drive off freight deck, covered on the forward part of the ship, but open aft.

Mr. Hanover said new design includes many features to save fuel and operating costs.

“It will use 9.5 gallons of fuel per mile, with lower emissions,” he said. “We can crew it with a freight boat crew; that’s $200,000 savings per year. We expect very few cancellations. It has a high profile, but it is also lightweight.”

County commissioner Melinda Loberg, a member of the Tisbury harbor advisory committee and candidate for selectman, questioned the “single-ended” design. Tisbury waterway regulations require all new ferries longer than 150 feet to be “double-ended,” to avoid the need to turn around in the busy harbor.

In a phone interview with The Times Sunday, Mr. Hanover said a double-ended design would add $2 million to the cost of the boat. While he promised to work with Tisbury on the design, he said it is unclear whether the local waterway regulation is binding on the Steamship Authority, an autonomous agency created by the Massachusetts state legislature. He said the process of gathering recommendations from local communities will be different than it was when the Island Home was in its design phase.

“The Island Home was a fiasco, I felt,” Mr. Hanover said. “The process was painful. We’ve already got a predetermined design. This is what the captains want, this is what the management wants, we’ll ask if there are any other considerations.”

He said the design plans will not be set until the Steamship Authority board votes on the final design.

Preliminary plans for a new terminal include a large area for vehicles to line up directly on the waterfront.
Preliminary plans for a new terminal include a large area for vehicles to line up directly on the waterfront.

Terminal plans

The Steamship Authority is also moving forward with plans to rebuild the Woods Hole terminal. The latest design concept features a large area for vehicles to line up directly on the waterfront, with a two-story terminal building about 240 feet back from the slips, and a shuttle bus drop-off area behind the terminal.

At the request of the Woods Hole community working group, SSA management had asked Bertaux + Iwerks Architects to evaluate several possible variations of the “single level” and “split level” alternative design concepts presented last November that open up the water view as much as possible, according to a management report of the March authority board meeting.

The architects were also asked to develop an additional design concept that relocates the terminal building to where the SSA’s freight shed is currently located. SSA management is expected to present a preferred design concept to Authority members when they meet on April 22 in Woods Hole.

“This is a little frightening because of the money involved,” Mr. Hanover said. “Woods Hole is the last terminal to be renovated. It’s on wood pilings that are starting to fail. I think they were put in in the 1800s.”

Mr. Hanover is critical of organized opposition to the plans. He said Steamship Authority management has already made too many concessions to a working group representing the Woods Hole community.

“A lot of these people are worried about the view from the bridge,” Mr. Hanover said. “I didn’t understand what they were talking about, because the only view I want to see is which boat is in the slip.”

Mr. Hanover said he has concerns with the current design about the distance passengers must walk from the terminal or shuttle buses to board boats. “We need to make it like people don’t feel they’re on a cross-country hike to get to the boat,” he said.

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In its first meeting of the New Year, held in Woods Hole on January 14, the Steamship Authority (SSA) provided financial relief for the privately operated Hy-Line ferry service on its high-speed Nantucket route.

The SSA members approved a management recommendation to modify the company’s license, so that the private ferry service will not be required to pay the SSA for passengers it carries on the high-speed Grey Lady during the winter season, when the boatline will not provide high-speed service.

“Without this limited reduction in its license fees, there was a possibility that Hy-Line would no longer be able to provide its high-speed service during the unprofitable winter months,” said the SSA in a management report.

The agreement is for three years and comes with the expectation that the company will not ask for any further modifications to either of its license fee schedules on its Vineyard and Nantucket routes.

The SSA’s enabling legislation requires companies that transport freight, passengers, or autos in vessels of a certain tonnage from the Massachusetts mainland to be licensed by the authority. License fees are intended to mitigate the boatline’s losses to private competitors, particularly during the lucrative summer months when authority profits are counted on to offset winter losses.

Without winter payments, the SSA estimates that Hy-Line will pay between $325,000 and $550,00 in fees for 2009, depending on the number of passengers it carries.

Marc Hanover, Vineyard SSA member, said he agreed to go along with the proposal, for several reasons. Winter service is maintained, the Nantucket member supported it, and it allows the SSA to reduce operational wear on its own high-speed vessel, the Iyannough.

“The good part of it for the Steamship Authority is we don’t have to beat up our boat,” said Mr. Hanover. “If we carried all the passengers for those three months we would still lose more than $200,000.”

Any savings realized on the Nantucket route would be good news for that island’s ratepayers. SSA fares are calculated to pay for the costs of service on each route. Less Nantucket traffic means fewer ratepayers to pick up the costs of service, and the news is not good.

In a report on year-end 2008 traffic statistics, management reported that Nantucket saw decreases from 2007 levels in passenger traffic (off 5.7 percent), autos (3.1 percent) and trucks (7.6 percent).

By contrast, Vineyard 2008 traffic levels remained relatively stable when compared to the previous year. Passenger traffic was up 1.4 percent, auto traffic was up 0.3 percent, and truck traffic was up 0.1 percent.

In other business, the SSA reported that the Oak Bluffs terminal reconstruction project is on schedule. The second phase of construction is expected to be completed by the end of April.

The board also approved payments for design services for phase three, which will include the construction of a new covered passenger walkway to the pier, a passenger waiting deck attached to the back of the terminal, site improvements to the Seaview Avenue pick-up/drop-off area and extensive renovations and modifications to the terminal building.