Updated Jan. 22
In a bombshell admission Tuesday morning, Steamship Authority general manager Robert Davis said the ferry line would have a difficult time building a new vessel given fiscal constraints, which include a ferry terminal project in Woods Hole that’s $10 million over budget.
Davis admitted the SSA was in a potentially precarious state for ferry funding during the board’s monthly meeting Tuesday in Falmouth. New Bedford board member Moira Tierney repeatedly pressed Davis on the subject of bond liability, and the fiscal weeds the SSA seemed to have landed itself in.
Davis said the SSA projects “$93 million on bonds outstanding” and has a statutory limit of $100 million. A report from treasurer and comptroller Mark Rozum pegged the current outstanding bonds at $73 million, with a dip in that figure expected before the projection Davis outlined comes to pass. SSA ferries cost tens of millions of dollars to design and build. Under the fiscal status Davis forecast, the SSA would have only $7 million to do such a thing. He said an amendment to the SSA enabling act would be necessary for the $100 million bond limit to be raised.
Asked by Tierney if there have been “talks” on the subject of a new bond ceiling, Davis said, “At this point, no.”
Tierney warned changing the enabling act was no simple task. “That’s not going to be easy as 1-2-3,” she said.
Rozum asked the board to approve $26 million in bonds to be used to refinance old debt and to pay for costs associated with the Woods Hole project. The board approved the request.
Tierney seized upon the subject of the Woods Hole project, taking issue cost with overruns, especially in light of the bonding dilemma. “Is it fair to say, and am I reading correctly, that the change orders and the increased costs … has added $10 million …?” she asked.
“That’s probably fair to say,” Davis said.
“I’ve got to say, I’d be remiss in my responsibilities not to say that I am concerned …,” she replied.
SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll said the Woods Hole project was originally and roughly estimated at $60 million.
HMS and LMS
On the recommendation of Davis, the board voted to approve a $59,000 contract with Glosten Associates for continued support in the planning and implementation of the HMS report, an ongoing process termed the SSA Strategic Initiatives Implementation Planning Project. Glosten, a Seattle-based marine design and engineering firm, was a subcontractor for HMS Consulting for the creation of the HMS report. Davis echoed what former HMS Consulting president John Sainsbury told The Times earlier in January, that HMS Global Maritime, parent company to HMS Consulting, opted to dissolve HMS Consulting. Sainsbury had also told The Times he was still committed to helping the SSA, despite the end of the firm he headed. True enough, Davis told the board that Sainsbury would be Glosten’s subcontractor, and be part of the team providing further assistance with implementation.
SSA human resources director Janice Kennefick gave the board a presentation on the ferry line’s learning management system (LMS), a type of educational software program recommended by the HMS report. Kennefick told the board LMS will be the SSA’s training hub, and that the safety management system and quality management system (SQMS) will be integrated into the LMS, and that some elements of SQMS have been preloaded onto the LMS site, such as OSHA material.
Kennefick said in the past, new hires got documentation and training requirements via email and in paper form. Now they are simply provided a link to the LMS, she said: “What’s really exciting, and this has just happened, we’re using this as an employee communication portal as well. So not only for training, but because we do not currently have an intranet …” Among other utilities, Kennefick said, the portal feature allows employees to get company updates, including audio announcements from Davis.
MV Katama going to Senesco Marine
The board voted to approve a contract with Senesco Marine for $895,791 to work on the MV Katama. Specifically, the Katama is to “undergo a [U.S.] Coast Guard hull exam, machinery inspections, underwater hull cleaning and painting, hull plating replacements and inserts, steering replacement, and bow thruster maintenance.”
A few incidents befell the Katama in 2019. In May a mast broke off and fell onto the vessel while it was underway. No vehicle damage or injuries were reported. Two days before Christmas, the vessel suffered a steering failure while underway. Following work it underwent at the SSA Fairhaven facility to fix the steering, the vessel dropped out of a Coast Guard sea trial to make an additional repair. At the time, Driscoll told The Times specifically, “The Coast Guard requested additional reinforcement of the Clevis pins that secure the hydraulic ram.”
However, when taking press questions toward the end of the meeting, Davis offered a different take. “Our engineering group that was onboard the vessel had some concerns about the pin itself, and they proposed to the Coast Guard that the pin be reworked …”
Davis went on to say, “I don’t think the Coast Guard had indicated one way or another whether they were going to pass the vessel or not.”
When later asked for clarity, Driscoll walked back his earlier statement to The Times, and said the SSA took initiative to sideline the vessel again so the pin in question could be worked on on a lathe at Fairhaven Shipyard. “We were later told by our people they made the suggestion to machine the pin,” he said.
Other than deploying recent hires to monitor shipyard work, The Times asked Davis what else the SSA would do to ensure another vessel doesn’t return from Senesco Marine with the problems the MV Martha’s Vineyard had following its $18 million midlife refurbishment in 2018.
Davis did not offer up any other safeguards, sticking with the monitoring capacity of the enlarged engineering staff as the best hedge against future shipyard problems. Director of marine operations Mark Amundsen, who recently assumed former director of maintenance and engineering Carl Walker’s duties, stood by Davis’ viewpoint on the subject, and did not mention any additional precautions.
Asked if changes had been made to the contracts the SSA uses with Senesco, Davis simply said, “It‘s a standard contract,” one that also would have been used if the other bidder on the Katama, Thames Shipyard, had won. Thames lost the bid by $12,353.
Updated with additional material from the board meeting and to remove cost estimates for the MV Woods Hole, which could not immediately be verified. –Ed.