SSA terminal concepts take heat in Tisbury

‘Building is a boat’ made ‘not to float,’ architect says; Cabral pleads not to ‘obliterate’ view.


Steamship Authority general manager Robert Davis and architect Liam Davis walked a modest audience through concepts for the next Woods Hole terminal on Monday night at Katharine Cornell Theater.

Unlike the last time the SSA came to the Vineyard to pitch terminal designs in what was an “open house” format at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, a formal presentation was given, and on several occasions it was interrupted by critical comments.

Robert Davis told those gathered the ink was pretty much dry on where the future building will be situated — about 120 feet from the water — and its footprint. Any changes to those aspects of the project would involve another Chapter 91 permit application to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, as well as a fresh permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, he said.

Bill Cloutier, the project manager for the Woods Hole terminal, added that a storm water management system was already being installed, making relocation of the building footprint improbable. Even simply rotating the footprint 45 degrees, a suggestion made by former Times editor and owner Doug Cabral and Falmouth SSA board member Kathryn Wilson, would hamper bus traffic and affect customer pickup and drop-off, Robert Davis said, and might run afoul of the Falmouth conservation commission.

Architect Liam Davis said a vetting process of some 26 original designs and layouts ruled out moving the building site toward the eastern or western edges of the property because it would interfere with bus or truck traffic. Moving it further back risked creating too long of a distance for passengers to access the ferries, and also could put them in the path of traffic, he said.

What the SSA hoped to get input on was three different roof configurations for the building — a gable roof, a “reduced saltbox roof,” and a “three-story crossing gable roof.” A constant, Liam Davis said, will be the first story of the building, because in order to adhere to code, it must be made of waterproof materials that offer less design latitude.

“With the new building codes that are in effect now, to build a building in this location we have to design for flood-proofness. It’s just a mandate,” he said.

Those codes require raising the building, he said. “Higher than we really want to, because as a public transit facility, accessibility becomes very problematic once the building gets raised substantially.”

He went on to specify that elevation and accessibility codes couldn’t be fully met without planning a waterproof first story.

“Essentially the building is a boat,” he said. “It’s actually designed not to float when there’s a flood.”

He explained the building will be all concrete from the top of the first story down to the slab.

Islander Anna Edey voiced what many expressed at the presentation, a dislike of the stone façade employed in each of the three concepts. Liam Davis said that stonework was meant to echo as best it could the historic Candle House in Woods Hole. Edey suggested the first story’s concrete wall be hidden by studs and cedar shingles instead of rock.

“What you’re describing is called a breakaway wall, in code terms, and that’s not allowed for this,” the architect said.

Unsatisfied by that answer and most Robert Davis and Liam Davis gave her, Edey asked to meet one-on-one with an architect or engineer on the project.

“This kind of forum, you don’t get down to the depths of any kind of discussion,” Edey said. “Is there any way that I can meet with somebody at some time to really discuss some ideas that I have and other people may also have — well-thought-out ideas that need to have a more thorough hearing than we can have [here]?”

Edey was told to fill out a comment card or email her ideas. She continued to press Robert Davis until finally he said, “I’ll be happy to meet with you.”

Islander Molly Cabral said she was glad a previous concept for the building had been “scrapped,” but reiterated what she told the SSA board last October, that the terminal building should not “obliterate” the view of the strait of Woods Hole. Cabral also pointed to a past suggestion by Wilson that efforts be made to reroute cargo through New Bedford.

“The New Bedford issue, that’s an issue that we have looked at a number of times,” Robert Davis said. “We ran a pilot program. We do have it on our website, our last feasibility report for that. We are willing to listen to any private carrier that wants to do it. That fact is that there is no facility at New Bedford at the moment. The State Pier is not capable. It needs to be rehabilitated itself. I’m hearing anywhere from $20 to $30 million to do that. And then the question becomes whether that falls into what New Bedford has in mind for that facility.”

The initial design received tremendous pushback from the community.

“You are aware that there’s a petition signed by a thousand people, many of whom are from the Vineyard, who object to this design?” Woods Hole resident Bob Morris asked.

“And that’s why we’re looking at further options,” Liam Davis said.


  1. We wouldn’t be here if the SSA hadn’t gratuitously and unnecessarily torn down the old terminal, apparently wi thout a thought as to what was actually going to replace it.
    I say: Let them live with what is there now. We don’t need an awful, ugly expensive new terminal. They made their bed—let them lie in it. This summer will be a learning experience.

  2. This is how the SSA operates…they decide what they want to do, they do it, and they do not really want to or even care to pay attention to the communities they are supposed to serve. Since the very first days of the SSA it has been so. “We do what we want to, now go away” has always been the SSA motto. Sad, but true.

  3. I see no problem with this.
    The nonstop islander infrastructure complaint machine is the reason the VH stop and shop was never built. Furthermore we almost derailed the roundabout that everyone loves now. Let’s not even talk About turf.
    Personally I liked the first design, but anyone of the new ones seems just as good. Build it.

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