SSA hearing on early morning truck trips draws polarized crowd

John Leite, owner of JWL Transport and MV Auto Salvage, argued against eliminating early morning freight boats during Monday's Steamship Authority hearing in Falmouth's main library. – Rich Saltzberg

At Monday afternoon’s Steamship Authority hearing at Falmouth Public Library, truckers and homeowners came to the microphone with starkly different assessments of the need for early-morning truck traffic to Woods Hole. The Steamship Authority is considering changes to the May-through-October portion of its 2018 schedule after receiving a petition from disgruntled residents who live along the road to the ferry terminal. The petitioners want the Steamship Authority to nix two early Vineyard-bound boat runs — 5:30 and 6:15 am — due to the noise generated by trucks headed to board those boats.

We request the establishment of voluntary quiet hours on the part of the Steamship Authority for its freight truck traffic on Palmer Ave., North Main St., Woods Hole Road, and in Woods Hole village, between 10 pm and 6:30 am,” the petition states. The petition also argued that the number of vehicles the Steamship Authority serves via the Woods Hole terminal has exceeded safe capacity.

Island trucking heavyweights Clarence “Trip” Barnes, Jerry Goodale, John Leite, and Greg Carroll joined several off-Island carriers in denouncing the elimination of morning freight boats. They argued that fewer boats would escalate their operating costs and trigger delays. They also balked at shifting freight transportation from Woods Hole to New Bedford. John Leite, owner of JWL Transport and MV Auto Salvage, rebuffed suggestions that there was a campaign to transform the Woods Hole terminal into an industrial port, saying that industrial ports, such as those in Boston, typically have shipping containers, as opposed to just truck traffic. He argued that the Steamship’s ferry service to the Vineyard is simply an extension of the highway, and that truck traffic is natural on a highway. Mr. Leite also said the salient portions of the truck route to Woods Hole were state highway, and that he felt badly that folks live along the highway, but “it is what it is.” Longtime Island shipper Clarence Barnes suggested that Falmouth erect signage along Woods Hole Road that forbids the use of truck Jake brakes. He said that if a substantial fine backed up the signs, the use of those brakes would subside, and so would unwanted noise.

Falmouth selectman Doug Jones said his board was in favor of paring back early-morning freight boat hours. Residents of Woods Hole and Falmouth proper also advocated for the elimination of early boats. They contended that the noise from early-morning truck traffic to those boats violated the sanctity of their homes and negatively affected their health. One woman stated she lives a half-mile from the roadway, and is still subject to noise from trucks early in the morning. Several residents said that while the Coast Guard Station in Woods Hole has routinely acted as a good neighbor, the Steamship Authority has not, and appears to ignore or downplay their concerns. Woods Hole resident Brian Von Herzen, executive director of the Climate Foundation, said that the noise generated by truck traffic was a violation of the Fifth Amendment because in his opinion, the noise intrusion generated by the trucks constituted a taking (devaluing) of private property for public use.

The Steamship Authority recorded Monday night’s testimony, but took no action at the meeting. According to Steamship Authority general counsel Steven Sayers, board members from Martha’s Vineyard and New Bedford were absent from the hearing due to scheduling conflicts.