SSA may need legislative help to build next ferry

Woods Hole project $10 million in the red, Glosten retained for more consultation.

From left, board members Kathryn Wilson, Robert Ranney with SSA general manager Robert Davis and counsel Terence Kenneally. - Rich Saltzberg

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. 



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.




  1. over $10,000,000 on the budget? I’d laugh if it wasn’t so sad….sad that the current SSA can’t seem to get anything right. I personally feel that a new boat shouldn’t be considered especially since they’ve had so many problems with the new boats we are paying for now.
    just my opinion

  2. $10 million over budget on the Woods Hole building? Imagine the low cost housing that could be built for $10 million. Did Marc Hanover have anything to say? The state legislature should get involved. And it’s not to increase the credit line of the SSA.

  3. As if it couldn’t get any worse. The last thing they need is another $50,000,000.00 BOAT. Imagine the fleet of passenger fast ferries they could get for just the $10mm over run on the terminal! We would have so many fast ferry trips in a day that they wouldn’t need a terminal! this is outrageous

  4. Time to buy a couple of used fast ferries.
    You still get the passenger travel. You still get the revenue. You just don’t get the unreliability in bad weather and “mechanical issues” the larger boats are subject to. Especially this fall and winter.

  5. Why did we have to have a fancy set up? Back in the old days we didnt even have a roof over our heads in Vineyard Haven and not much of one on OB. Everything was sparse, you sat in your cars. This has ballooned to luxury we cant afford. Get legislative help, this has turned into a disaster.

    • So TRUE!! why do we still have a 45min crossing! they could run fast ferries every half hour all day and move the people rather than make them comfortable in a terminal and on a cruise ship! where’s the protests?

      • Big boats and their large crews. The SSA is about perpetuating itself. Giving us what we want and should have? Nah.

        • Crew size is dictated by Coast Guard regulations and the number of life boats aboard each ship. Each life boat needs to be operated by a crew member and holds “X” human beings. As there are no reservations for walk-ons, the number of lifeboats is appropriate for the highest total possible passenger count. Then divide the total passenger count by X to figure the number of lifeboats on board, and there you have your crew count. In case of emergency, I’m assuming everyone would want a Coast Guard licensed professional to launch their lifeboat, and no one wants to play musical chairs if there aren’t enough lifeboats to go around.

  6. The next time you are in Woods Hole, take a look at the temporary terminal building that cost $1.2 million dollars. Note the stainless steel wire railings. Yes, they look nice, and it meets the building codes, but stainless wire is about them most expensive railing possible. They could have easily saved $20,000
    by putting a reasonable railing system in. And remember , this is a temporary structure. Why spend that kind of money for stainless steel , that will last for a hundred years if the building will be torn down in 4 or 5 years ? Just an example…

    • dondondon12. If only. The temporary terminal building, including design and engineering, cost $3,028,000.

  7. So here’s a no brainier idea. Perhaps the next new ferry could be for passenger cars and light trucks ( like pick ups ) only. It could be lower on the water line, making it more stable and less of a sail in high winds . It would be able to carry more passenger vehicles and the commercial trucks would still be able to get over on the other ferries, and freight boats.
    It’s crazy to build every boat with the capacity to carry 76 ft long, 13 ft 6 inch high trucks.

  8. Upon reading this article and as an island resident, I feel somewhat embarrassed that I don’t know more about the steamship authority structure, fiscal budget and mandate. It seems to me that even though the SSA has been given preferential treatment regarding their tax obligations from a decades old agreement with the government, they’re somewhat of a runaway train. Put aside all of the delays, settlements, firings and disfunction over recent years. The governors have just approved to issue bonds that will effectively max out their allowable ability under a Patrick agreement. What’s next? An SSA shutdown until the state legislature will approve of another “debt ceiling increase”? Will fares increase to an ungodly level? I feel if the ferry service becomes too expensive, not only will it drive away tourists, from which almost everyone on the island benefits, but cost of goods will be so high it will drive away the year round population. I’m just saying, where is the accountability? Without being red/ blue partisan, can anyone objectively describe to me how this model is sustainable in its current state? What is the interest rate on the bonds and how long are the terms? What are the maturity dates on said bonds? And how much matures when? How long would it take the SSA to pay back $100M in bonds, theoretically? (I am aware that most businesses has revolving debt). And how does the interest rates on the bonds affect the increase in fares on top of the usual increase of fiscal expenditures? I’d like to hear from some people who are in the know…..Driscoll? Cue the double speak and ambiguity……..

  9. Pretty much everyone in this comments section, along with the population of Falmouth attacked the ssa original terminal design. The newest, cutest model costs $3 million more to be cute, smaller, and hang up a couple solar panels. The community definitely contributed to terminal overruns, without question. That being said, Davis is spending like a drunken sailor so to speak. There is NO such thing as a standard contract, unless you get it off legal zoom. This speaks to hiring an out of touch operations manager (who we haven’t a whisper about despite his extensive authority) and Davis not having an inkling of a clue how to manage his shipyard maintenance. The more I read, and talk to these guys Davis seems to be spiraling out of control, and is more and more apparent as the weak link.

    • To be fair to the people who pushed back on the Woods Hole design, it was unveiled at a board meeting without any public input ahead of time and was immediately panned by people in Falmouth, Martha’s Vineyard, and even state leaders. So to blame “the population of Falmouth” isn’t accurate.

  10. Why is every ferry the SSA builds different? That means different sets of spare parts, different handling characteristics for training the crew on, etc, etc. Is there another ferry service in the USA with a different design? And I agree with the comment about the “let’s build a cruise ship” attitude. The trip is 45 minutes, you do not need all the fancy facilities for the short trip….it is as if they are designing these boats for marketing reasons aimed at attracting customers who want an enjoyable cruise. We take the ferry to get to and from the island, not for the experience of a cruise ship

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