O.B. terminal may not be ready for season

Packish calls for ouster of SSA general manager for ‘mismanagement.’ 

The SSA has e-ticketing now available.

Updated at 1 pm

The Oak Bluffs ferry terminal may not open for the season because of problems with the pier and at least one town selectman says this latest issue calls for a change in leadership at the Steamship Authority.

An engineering report done by the SSA ahead of the spring and summer seasons showed defects in some pilings and decking plates that may not hold the weight of trucks and passenger vehicles, Jim Malkin, the Vineyard’s representative on the SSA board, told The Times. The pier, which is unprotected in Vineyard Sound, takes a beating during winter nor’easters, he said.

But a frustrated Brian Packish, chairman of the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen, told The Times the ferry service should have acted sooner to fix the problems and he places the blame on general manager Robert Davis. “I firmly believe the ship has run aground and it is past time for Mr. Davis to be escorted off the vessel,” Packish wrote in an email to Malkin. “No entity can responsibly invest in this failing enterprise under its current leadership.”

In a conversation with The Times, Packish pointed to the repeated failures of the SSA under Davis’s leadership, including the ferry breakdowns in the spring of 2018 and the cost overruns on the Woods Hole terminal project. “It’s a squeeze play due to their mismanagement. They’re $50 million in the hole due to bad construction projects and layer upon layer upon layer of mismanagement,” Packish said. “Everyone has been sticking with him, but now we’re multiple years into a perfect storm, they like to call it, every time something negative happens with no accountability or responsibility. They’ve been occurring weekly. It’s clear, you’re not sorry… You’re knowingly not doing your job. People in the community are fed up.”

Malkin said he understands the frustration that Packish is feeling, especially with the coronavirus issue having the potential to hurt the Island’s summer economy. Asked if he agreed with the assessment that Davis needs to go, Malkin said, “The SSA has made a number of changes in its organization following on from the consultant’s report. It takes time for those changes to gel and Mr. Davis has the support of the board of governors as we work through making the Steamship Authority an effective organization in these challenging times.”

Malkin said some of the delay in getting the engineering done was the replacement of Carl Walker, director of maintenance and engineering, whose job now falls under Mark Amundsen, director of marine operations.

Davis declined a request to be interviewed and instead SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll issued a statement. “Mr. Davis shares Selectman Packish’s concerns about the safety of the pier and the economic health of Oak Bluffs in light of the COVID-19 crisis. He is reserving further comment until the two are able to speak directly about both matters and until more details can be developed about the timing and scope of the repair project,” he wrote.

Driscoll also outlined the process for making repairs to the pier, which were part of the standard budgeting process in August.

“After a series of careful underwater inspections in February and March of this year to determine the extent of the repairs needed, the authority learned on March 30, 2020, that approximately 35 pilings were in critical need of repair. The Oak Bluffs terminal is not used during the off-season and, therefore, this issue will have no immediate effect on service. All vehicles we transport to the Island will continue to be loaded and offloaded at our Vineyard Haven terminal until the Oak Bluffs repair is complete. We are in the process of determining a timeline and budget for the repairs,” he wrote. “The reopening of the Oak Bluffs terminal as it relates to the COVID-19 crisis is a separate discussion that is ongoing and will be based on current and anticipated upcoming demand for service for the summer season, as well as the input of elected officials and business leaders in Oak Bluffs and across the Island.”

In a followup email, Driscoll wrote that $865,000 was budgeted for repairs. It’s unclear whether that will be enough to cover the extent of repairs that are needed.

Malkin said the SSA is looking to find out from the engineering firm whether a short-term fix can be put in place to safely use the pier for the season. He said he’s asked Davis to get that answer by the board’s next meeting on April 21 or sooner, if possible.

The possibility that the Oak Bluffs boats won’t run this summer is troubling to Packish.

“We are all working really hard to put the public health crisis first and it’s obvious with the actions of the boards of selectmen and boards of health, it’s working,” he said. “We’re going the extra mile to support the hospital.”

Reducing ferry service by 50 percent and 100 percent to Oak Bluffs would hurt the whole Island, he said. “I don’t care what town you’re from, if you cut the ferry service in half, it will affect you,” he said. 

That’s on Malkin’s mind, too. “From everybody’s point of view, if we have visitors we want to accommodate them. We want a vibrant economic community,” he said.

Updated to include a statement from the SSA. -ed.

55 COMMENTS

  1. i think if the steamship cancels boat service to ob that they should at the very least be running a fast ferry to get people to the town. not sure why this is coming to light now when they have had time prior to the end of the season to inspect the pilings and put a plan in place to be working on them before all these shut downs. enough is enough with the surprises Mr Driscoll oak bluffs doesn’t need your lack of leadership. someone needs to step up and do what’s right for us and help get the steamship back on track and servicing the islanders and not themselfs

    • Mr. Driscoll is merely a spokesman for the SSA, there is no leadership coming from his roll. Another misguided shot at an innocent individual. Tattletale islanders talk patrolman was first blood. Who will be the hat trick?

    • I think running the fast ferry into OB is a fantastic idea. If you offer a boat with a shorter run time it might bring more people to come into town. I only hope SSA management considers it. Something tells me it makes too much good sense for them to do it, considering their poor decisions of late. I think adding a fast ferry into OB in the summer permanently would be a good for business and good for the island.

  2. Davis was never qualified to lead the SSA — he was the consummate insider who was handed the job. And to further protect himself he’s refused to hire a COO as recommended by the outside consultants. A strong #2 role would threaten him. Packish is right — Davis needs to go and an outsider with fresh eyes and common sense brought in.

    • You are absolutely right
      Davis should be fired.
      We need a new guy.
      A guy who has never been on the Island.
      Maybe even a guy who never even been on boat.
      That kind of fresh eyes and common sense,.

    • Nathan — I appreciate the humor– however, you actually assert a fact that is incorrect .
      That being that the U.S has the worst testing pare in the world.
      Here is a link to a very good site that gives facts about the virus :
      https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries
      You are correct about trump’c continuing lie about testing, but the U.S, while being behind many developed countries in per capita testing, is far from the worst.

  3. Packish is right. Steamship Authority’s Board members simply rubber stamped Lamson’s recommendation of Davis for General Manager. Lamson still works as a paid consultant for the SSA — no conflict of interest there. Davis went from managing a handful of accountants to trying to manage more than 700 employees. It’s time for Davis to go.

    • Absolutely no conflict.
      It is not at all unusual for former CEO’s to do consulting work for their former employers.
      They know such about the operation.

    • There is so very little overlap in the skill set necessary to Captain a boat and running a successful transportation operation.
      It is a 100 million dollar year operation, you need someone with good financial skills.
      It has significant real estate holdings, you need someone with real estate experience.
      They have 3,100 employees, you need some one with good human resources skills.
      You need someone with good presentation and marketing skills.
      A boat driver is unlikely to strong in all those areas.

      • The more important skills in management are judgement and leadership, which are more likely to be found in a seasoned deck officer than a bureaucrat.

  4. People aren’t coming this Summer. They are laid off, scared, possibly putting children into schools, and cutting bills to pay off credit cards and make ends meat. Festivals and events won’t be allowed. Will hotels even be allowed? Air BNB? We will have the 2nd home owners here, but there will be a serious decline in visitors. We won’t have the European workers here to work the establishments. Do we want to expose our community to a weekly shuffle of potential covid carriers from across the country? Is our hospital ready for a potential hot spot 2nd wave in the summer? Will steamship even have the passenger demand?
    A lot of unknowns.
    But the biggest known factor is that we have an unsafe dock that needs repaired.
    Sounds like a good time to do it.

    • I agree. Second home owners are self-quarantining when they arrive from the hot spots and I doubt they or anyone else will want to be congregating at all this summer. It’s going to be quiet summer. It seems like islanders are confused about the issue of a summer season. They want to open things up and go back to work, yet don’t want anyone to come here to “escape” the virus because they will bring it here. It’s a very confusing time, but social distancing is going to be with us until there is a vacine, antibody tests for everyone, and contact tracing– and we don’t have any of that now and not likely we’ll get it by summer. I think some visitors will come if they’re assured it’s not crowded.

      • The nerve of those people.
        They think they can come here anytime they want just because they own real estate, that they pay taxes on.

    • my first response when i read the headline was, what season?? it cannot be that we are so insulated and uninformed on the island that we do not realize there is a GLOBAL pandemic happening. even if there are no new cases of COVID-19 reported for the next month, does that mean we want to open up the gates and let 100,000 visitors come over on the boats and walk around town? is it ok now to expect people from china, germany, other states in america to come gather on the ferries, use the restrooms…then when they arrive, what are they to do? where are they to go? will they have to form lines to enter the grocery stores one at a time? they won’t be able to go to flying horses, grab an ice cream cone, dine at a restaurant, or gather in a bar. events are cancelled. people are laid off. do i misunderstand?

      • Actually, none of the countries you mention would let any of their people travel to the U.S. WE are now the problem, not them.

  5. Is this article an April Fools joke? Never a more hapless group running the show & it only seems to get worse. Any takers on whether the new terminal tops out north of 100mil? On a place that sells $9.00 (for now) tickets…

  6. Our biggest issue will be summer workers. There is pent up demand across the country to get away and we will have a very robust Summer season. SSA better figure out a way to fix the OB dock real quick.

    • Agreed – imagine sitting in your apartment for months, dreaming of getting out, and laying on a beach at their usual place. Hesitant now, but summer is months away.

      • Sorry folks- this is delusional thinking based on nothing but vague hope. Summer hinges on large crowds. Large crowds are close to each other. There is nothing to indicate our country will be ready, able or willing to be elbow-to-elbow on boats, in restaurants, on the main streets, in the shops, etc. Expect tumbleweeds.

      • BS and Justaguy. The pent up demand, with the lowest gas prices in possibly 40 years coupled with a low demand for overseas travel by Americans, a fall Boston Marathon all bode well for a decent summer and fall.

    • The reality is that the Island will just not need the Oak Bluffs terminal this year.
      It is starting to look like the SSA traffic will be down as much as 50% this summer.
      So many of the usual summer visitors will not be able to afford the Vineyard this summer.

      • Interesting comment Ajay, considering you just said trump will have the economy up and strong by June.
        You also say SSA traffic will be down 50% and summer visitors will not be able to afford the Vineyard this summer.
        I’m failing to see how both of your claims can be true.

  7. This is a double-whammy for OB and a grim omen for those who are counting on a robust summer to keep their businesses afloat. Tough, tough headwinds.

  8. Does anybody really believe the proposed closure has anything to do with the safety of the dock??? It’s time to read between the lines people. The SSA has laid off 100 workers and I’m sure they’re in no big hurry to reinstate them. If the laid off employees can collect from the state that’s less money coming out of their pockets and this whole situation has the trickle down affect. Who do you really think is going to pay for these repairs???? US, that’s who!!

    • Have you run a cost analysis?
      Will it cost more than Boston’s Big Dig?
      Who will pay for it?
      The Vineyard?

      Do you consider the Golden Gate Bridge and the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge to be unsightly?

  9. Regardless of whether or not the season will be robust or the slowest we have seen in many, many years, routine maintenance of the pier takes place every year. Without the annual maintenance it would become another multimillion dollar rebuild for the SSA. Do the repairs like every year otherwise next year could be a huge repair bill.

  10. You don’t want people, you want people. You want there money but not their presence. Make up your mind. We obviously need the money but there is a way to do it, just need a plan that’s all. Super easy to do. Don’t allow day visitors, homeowners or verified rentals. That will limit a lot of people. Or simply if you don’t have a lease in place by now, no dice. We can have a very decent summer if we do it right.

    • Super complex.
      Don’t allow day visitors, now that sounds reasonable, how about that also applies to people who want to go to Falmouth for the day?
      How about people who work off Island.
      How about the people who commute to the Island for work?
      How will you deal with homeowners who want a family member to visit for the day?
      What is a verified rental?
      A weekend rental of a ‘party’ house to a fraternity?
      “Or simply if you don’t have a lease in place by now, no dice.”
      What if you have a place on the Island you have been renting out in August to the same family for over a decade who as of ‘now’ have not committed to a lease
      Do you just send them an email that says no dice?

      This is still America.
      There is no way that President Trump will allow our patriotic citizens to be stripped of the rights of free association by a very small group of people.
      President Trump and President Trump alone will decide how our economy will be opened back up.
      He is the only one with the authority to make those decisions.
      He made that perfectly clear on yesterday.
      He is focused 7/24 on getting our economy back up and running.
      If the economy is not strong come November he may well not get his contract renewed.
      Nothing is super easy about this virus.
      Except death.
      How easy is that.

      • “president trump and president trump alone will decide how our will be opened back up.”
        “He is the only one with the authority to make those decisions.”
        You may want to take a look at the Constitution. Pay close attention to the 10th amendment.

      • ajay–In case you haven’t noticed, trump is a pathological liar with no sense of the power and limitations of the office he occupies.
        Let me just remind you of a few of the things he has said concerning this pandemic.
        It will miraculously go away
        It’s a hoax by the democrats– I can tell you believe that one
        Anyone who wants a test can get a test
        I am doing a great job.
        So now he claims he and only he has the authority to re open the country .
        That’s pretty ludicrous you know. Especially in light of the fact that he had no role whatsoever in the decisions of governors to shut it down. The 10 th amendment is very clear that trump’s statement is totally misinformed. You comment about the rights of patriotic people, but apparently have no understanding of where those rights come from, and how those rights are protected. It’s all pretty well laid out in a document called “the constitution of the United States” .Perhaps you take a glance at it once in a while. It’s pretty clear that it is above the intellectual capacity of the current president, or he chooses to ignore it. Either way, on this particular statement he is wrong. I suspect your severe case of TDS is interfering with your perception of reality.
        Below, a link to a not too complicated summary of why trump’s statement is completely false:
        https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/04/14/trump-claim-total-authority-claim-10th-amendment/2988013001/

  11. step 1: no large /heavy trucks.
    Step 2: Automobiles only with minor deck repairs now
    Step 3: no automobiles. passengers and bicycles only
    Step 4: No Service but allow other private operators to Service OB

    Other interim steps for discussion?

  12. How about taking an opportunity here to look ahead ?
    Large trucks seem to be at least part of the problem here.
    How about a ferry that only carries passenger cars and pick up trucks ?
    It could have a much lower profile, making it more stable in windy conditions.
    it should be electric also.– And yes, there are hundreds of 100 % electric ferries in operation around the world. Please, regardless of how much you hate anything electric, don’t show your ignorance and claim that such a thing does not exist. And also, look up the efficiency factors of electric motors before you comment that they need to be recharged with fossil fuels.

    • What is the problem with big trucks.
      The are the least expensive way to move materials.
      Groceries, fuel oil, gasoline, propane, building materials, landscaping materials, and taking the Islands swill off island should all be done with pick up trucks.
      Surely you jest.

      There appear to be about 5 electric ferries in the world even half the size of of Vineyard ferries.
      4 of them are diesel/electric.
      You are jumping the gun

      “efficiency factors of electric motors” is totally unrelated to how they are recharged.

      Where would the electricity come from to charge the Vineyard ferries?

      • Ajay must be a big truck driver or owner. Heating oil, propane, and especially building materials and landscaping materials can more efficiently be carried to the islands by barge. Truck drivers can meet those non-time-sensitive goods arriving on island by barge and deliver them from there. Why pay truck drivers to ride ferries?

      • Ajay– I am not saying that we should have only car ferries. Please read my comment. I am suggesting “A” light vehicle ferry. Possibly electric.
        The article mentions large trucks. They are a fine way to move things around, but the infrastructure needs to accommodate them. What I am suggesting is that not every ferry needs to be built to accommodate the largest trucks. There are many places where trucks are prohibited on the roads. There are some bridges that were built to handle cars only, and there are signs that say things like “trucks over 5 tons prohibited” . For the foreseeable future, we will need ferries that can accommodate large trucks. We just don’t need every one to have that capacity.
        A car only ferry would presumably be cheaper to build, would not stink, and be quiet.
        You say “efficiency factors of electric motors” is totally unrelated to how they are recharged. Obviously, that is a tautological statement– ( I wonder if that sentence is redundant ? Grammar scholars please comment )
        However, when the power train is engaged, the electric motors are much more efficient. As for how to charge them ? Just a fraction of the electricity from one proposed off shore windmill would power the whole fleet. And yes, we still have the grid for when the wind is not blowing…

        • It is true electric is more efficient at point of use, and the benefits to the Vineyard are obvious. The issue becomes how the electricity is generated. The windmill is also “efficient”, but the issue becomes where and at what cost in dollars and energy are they constructed. Charging stations must also be considered. This is not a simple analysis.

          • Hanley– you are correct on all points.
            There is no easy way out of our energy use.
            The lithium needed to produce enough batteries to put a dent in our energy consumption comes mostly from the high desserts of south America, at a staggering environmental and social cost to the local environment. Windmills come at a very high up front cost, and have their own set of environmental consequences.
            They require a large amount of materials that have to come from somewhere, and have a relatively short useful life. The blades are currently not recyclable, and have to be replaced periodically.
            Solar panels suck up all the sunshine –:)
            And the infrastructure for all this has to be built from the ground up.
            So, as we both know, nothing is easy about this (except turning your stinking diesel truck off while you are in the supermarket, turning off your 200 watt floodlights that are on 24 / 7 , and adjust to living at 68 degrees in the winter and 73 degrees in the summer, rather than the other way around. )
            As time goes on, and we start to be impacted by the true cost of climate change, we will have no choice.
            Since the term flatten the curve seems trendy, let me say here that we need to” flatten the carbon curve. ”
            You heard it first ,right here, from dondondon.
            You know, I would have been happy to just be dondondon, but it was taken when I originally signed up here, and disquis was the platform. Or better yet, dondon that was taken everywhere,
            And just for a little personal levity here , my grandchildren call me “papa dondon ” . Let’s remember, that every number on the mounting death rate was a real person, with family and friends.
            And all of us commenting here are also real people with real feelings and opinions.
            As they say in Jamaica– “respect”

  13. Did it just occur to the SSA that they needed to deal with the pier?? Virus or not, summer visitors or not, this should have been dealt with before now. It was a relatively mild winter here, it should have been dealt with.

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