The Steamship Authority board promised it was there to listen, but Woods Hole residents who filled more than 100 seats of the Falmouth High School auditorium Tuesday night weren’t buying that their comments would have any effect on the final design of a Woods Hole terminal.
After more than an hour and a half of back and forth, the two sides were no closer to compromise. Martha’s Vineyard representative Marc Hanover left the meeting at around 7 pm, saying he needed to catch a ferry, otherwise he would not be able to get back to the Island. He was quickly followed by Nantucket representative Robert Ranney, leaving the SSA board without a quorum and putting off a decision on how to move forward.
General manager Robert Davis had hoped to get some direction for BIA.studio architects who were listening in the audience, but they largely heard what they’ve heard since their initial design was unveiled in October: The proposed terminal is too big, blocks too much of the view, and doesn’t fit in with the character of Woods Hole.
Robert Jones, the SSA board chairman and Barnstable’s representative, set the tone for the contentious meeting, saying the hundreds of emails he’s read are unfair. “One thing that bothers is me the feeling that the authority doesn’t care or listen; that’s not true,” he said. “We do care, and we are listening. If we didn’t, we’d have the building built.”
A few minutes later, Davis provided a long list of reasons why the recommendations made by the public in those emails can’t be accomplished. Creating a separate building for staff locker rooms, for example, wouldn’t reduce the height of the building by much, and would add about $3 million to the bottom line, he said. Transporting employees from Palmer Avenue to the Woods Hole terminal on a daily basis would cost millions more, he said.
“To move employee portions from second floor would entail considerable cost and would not accomplish the goal of opening the view,” Davis said, at times reading directly from a 79-page summary compiled for the meeting.
The SSA has to make the building flood-proof, which is why cedar shakes and clapboards so common to the Cape and Islands are not part of the plans, Davis said.
Susan Shephard, a Woods Hole resident, said Davis appeared to close doors during his presentation. “You’ll go away saying that you’ve listened to community, but it certainly looks like you’ve come in with your minds made up,” she said. “Get ready for a big building, folks.”
John Woodwell, a Woods Hole resident, was equally blunt. “The constraints that you’ve laid out in this document preclude the possibility of caring or listening,” he said to applause.
Though Jones admonished the crowd, and urged them not to applaud speakers, it largely fell on deaf ears. “It’s hard for us to sit up here and understand what you want and get continually blasted,” Jones said.
Susan Moran, a Falmouth selectman, urged the SSA board to hit the reset button and do more community outreach. Rather than criticizing the community, the board should welcome and listen to the new voices, she said. “That’s what we’re here for.”
Damien Kuffler, a Woods Hole resident, criticized the SSA board for coming to the community too late looking for input. “You have never made an attempt before this to address these issues, and it seems a bit late to address them now,” he said.
Several times Kuffler asked the crowd for a show of hands, getting near-unanimous support from the crowd that the building is too big, that it should be moved, and that the SSA should work toward reducing freight service from Woods Hole.
While Moira Tierney, New Bedford’s representative, said the city is interested in beefing up its relationship with the SSA, she reminded the audience that the ferry service is first and foremost a lifeline to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. “To the extent you don’t want such a presence of the Steamship Authority in your community, you should let us know,” she said.
Perhaps the most telling moment in his presentation was when Davis reported that 78 percent of people who provided feedback were opposed to all three design options presented in March — an indication that the SSA faces an uphill battle in ever finding consensus with its Woods Hole neighbors.
Kathryn Wilson, the Falmouth representative on the board, said it’s been difficult for the SSA to get a clear read on what the town wants. She said the location picked is the safest spot, but she would like to see the size of the building reduced. “I do think if this building was planned in any of the other port communities, we’d be having the same conversations there,” she said.
Several people mentioned an MVTV video of Hanover at a meeting of the Dukes County Commissioners June 6, where he referred to Woods Hole residents as “those people” and appears to downplay their concerns. “It’s been horrific,” he tells the commissioners, assuring them that “it’s a small group from Woods Hole” delaying the terminal building and costing the project millions. There is laughter among some of the commissioners as he talks about the opposition.
Hanover responded saying the clip is taken out of the full context of his comments. He said he appreciates the frustrations of Woods Hole residents, has advocated for things like the use of barges for freight, and would have no problem keeping the temporary terminal in place. “It doesn’t work in the long run,” he said, noting that the SSA has a five-year permit for the facility.
Woods Hole resident Judy Laster said the process for designing the new terminal has been disturbing. “Trust has to be won, and it’s your job to win it. It’s your job to win it, not our job to give it to you,” she said.
Nan Schanbacher, who lives close to the SSA property, compared the project to recent renovations by the U.S. Coast Guard, which the community supported. The difference? The Coast Guard reached out to neighbors and made concessions.
“I just wish that you would find a way to listen to us and take this seriously instead of putting on these shows of being sympathetic that we all know are false,” Schanbacher said.
Laster urged the board to do what it’s done in other instances, like ferry breakdowns, and hire a consultant to help bridge the divide with the community. “I don’t think you have the capacity to do this right now because you’re too deep in the weeds,” she said.
Davis, pressed by a young audience member to provide some takeaways from the meeting, said he feels the community’s frustration, and understands there is a lack of confidence. “We’re frustrated too. We’d like to get to a point where it’s a workable solution for both sides,” he said.