A simpler plan for the Woods Hole terminal


To the Editor:

I have viewed with interest the SSA’s plans for the Woods Hole terminal renovations.

The initial proposals were all predicated on three full-sized slips and the removal of the present terminal building and earth fill dock. There is much misinformation about the dock. It has been described as sitting on wooden pilings that are failing. In fact the dock is built of solid fill originally with wooden sheathing to retain the fill. I worked on the dock in 1966, when the present third slip was built on the site of Sam Cahoon’s fish market, and we drove steel sheeting to replace the wood. In the intervening years, the remainder of the margins of the fill have been sheathed with steel. The building is a concrete block structure built on this solid material and was built in the early 1950s as a freight shed, during the era when freight was transported primarily on trains of dollies, towed onto the boats by tow motors. It has been modified to include the ticket counters, rest rooms, administration offices, and maintenance shops.

When the Island Home was introduced into service, it was larger than the other ships for which the slips were designed, so some of the fendering and dolphins were removed, and the result was that the impact shock against the dock caused damage to the concrete block terminal building.  This will require engineering and repairs unless the building is abandoned. Compared to the engineering and construction work for the new slips and shore facilities, this is relatively minor.

The proposals for the new terminal have all assumed that the ticketing and toilets will be relocated further inland, and the administration and maintenance facilities will move off site. The need to accommodate this new building, to comply with flood plain requirements, and to still accommodate the vehicles and pedestrians results in a complicated layout and great expense including major grading and terracing, and the removal and dredging of the material making up the earth fill dock.

An alternative scenario would be to repair, modify or rebuild the present terminal building to keep the ticketing and toilets near the slips, and to retain most of the earth fill dock by shifting the proposed slips enough for the building to remain at that location. This would greatly simplify the traffic and pedestrian arrangements, allowing the entire area to be used without major changes in grade. Before the board commits itself to the present alternatives, a realistic exploration of this option should be made, with comparable cost estimates.

Since there is no projected increase in revenues or ridership, the cost of the project will fall on the ratepayers, and this should be of concern to the Islanders. Also, the most frequent objection voiced by Vineyarders has been the long distance from the terminal to the boats, and this would be better if the terminal were near the slips. The challenges in constructing such a building might require elevation to comply with floodplain and velocity zone requirements, but that would put the floor level close to the embarkation level of the ships, not unlike the elevated walkways in some of the proposals. There might also be engineering alternatives to elevating the occupied floor levels, such as exterior walls able to withstand storm surges and flooding.

Thomas H. Renshaw

Woods Hole