SSA scales back Oak Bluffs repairs

In alternate Steamship Authority plan, caps and pilings to get “pickup truck” weight repairs.

The Steamship Authority Board learned Tuesday the scope of Oak Bluffs terminal repairs would be reduced. - Rich Saltzberg

On Tuesday, the second anniversary of the Great Harbor blackout of the MV Martha’s Vineyard, the Steamship Authority board convened as part of its new weekly meeting schedule and learned problems were afoot in Oak Bluffs.

SSA general manager Bob Davis said some contractors who received bid packages to repair the Oak Bluffs ferry terminal expressed concern over a time crunch.

“We’re starting to hear back from vendors who would normally be bidding on this project and what we’re hearing from them is that … between the timeframe of the delivery of the materials and the work that needs to be done, that the June 22 date becomes problematic,” Davis said. 

In light of such concerns, Davis pitched a “revised construction project” for the terminal. 

Under the plan, he suggested a more limited set of repairs would be executed by June 22, the standing target date for completion. These repairs would preclude tractor trailer trucks and heavy vehicles from passing through the terminal but allow for passengers, cars, and pickup trucks. 

Following an examination that found it to be unsafe, the project put out to bid called for the replacement of 35 pilings and 315 linear feet of southern yellow pine caps. That work was estimated to cost $500,000. 

The amended plan calls for “the minimum number” of pilings and caps to be replaced, Davis said. He pegged the number at 13. Mark Amundsen, director of marine operations, said only 24 feet of cap work would be done. Overall, he characterized the revised project as 20 percent of the original project. Both he and Davis said except for the possibility of pulling up decking again in certain areas and costs associated with the potential demobilization and remobilization of crews and equipment, completing the remainder of the piling and cap work in autumn shouldn’t inflate the overall price tag of the project. 

Davis said the revised bids will be opened on Monday with the anticipation the board can vote to select a bid Tuesday. 

Davis also said he spoke with Vineyard Transit Authority administrator Angie Grant in order to help channel passengers from Vineyard Haven to Oak Bluffs. He said she saw no problem providing “bus service directly from Vineyard Haven to Oak Bluffs to meet our boats — to bring people over to Oak Bluffs during the time that terminal is closed.”
The board did not vote on the project change. 

Reached Tuesday afternoon, Oak Bluffs selectman Gail Barmakian expressed pessimism at the ferry line’s ability to follow through with the project.

“At this point in time I have little or no faith in their ability to manage the situation,” she said.

Oak Bluffs selectmen chairman Brian Packish was less diplomatic.

“They basically mismanage everything they touch,” he said. “Confidence isn’t really a word I have when I have Steamship in the same sentence.”

Packish went on to reiterate a call for Davis’s ouster.

“Eventually they’re going to hit the wall and realize they’re not going to be able to accomplish anything under Davis,” he said 

This is a developing story.


  1. Look at the hardware in that picture. If ever there were an application for stainless hardware, that is it. But of course they wouldn’t get to replace it so often.

    • If ever there were an application for stainless hardware, that is not it.
      Galvanized steel hardware will out last even the best treated lumber.
      Rusty steel bolts look awful.
      All that flaking rust.
      1/8″ of steel = 1″ of rust.
      The bolts in the picture probably still have 80+% of the original tensile strength.
      The bolts should have been specced at a 4 times safety factor, and then double bolted.
      There is no good reason to have the bolts outlast wood.
      1″ x 16″ Hot Dipped Galvanized $15.34 each.
      1″ x 16″ Stainless Steel $96.55 each.
      At the the time the rusty bolts in the picture went in the difference in price between galvanized and stainless was much higher.

      • Galvanized is not a good choice in the marine environment; it contains within itself a galvanic cell. Plain steel would do better, but stainless even better. As to cost, labor is the major consideration along with frequency of repair.

        • ???????
          I have yet to see a wood commercial dock that uses stainless fasteners.
          Have you?
          Galvanize is a coating on steel.

          “Galvanized steel is ideal for marine environments because of it a protective layer over carbon steel. Stainless steel is made up of carbon and other metals, and the carbon compound will react with salt water resulting in rust. The zinc layer on galvanized steel prevents this reaction. Worksites within five miles of a saltwater coast should only use galvanized steel.”

          Stop the SSA nonsense, ask to be appointed to the SSA Board of Govoners .

  2. And some of the lumber does not even look to be pressure treated?
    Where is the accountability for the shoddy work?
    I remember when the docks would go many years with just minor plank replacement.

    • The newer wood is green.
      The green has washed out of the older wood.
      Where was the shoddy work?

      • Blow the picture up; then look at the bolt upper left. Notice the crack which begins at the bolt and proceeds to the right spewing the product of the galvanic cell thru the crack into full view. The shims that appear to be cedar shingles are also questionable in this application.

        • Yes the wood is cracked and rust stained, its old, that happens to old things.
          If you had ever been around dock construction you would have seen that the use of cedar shingles to shim to level heavy timber construction is a standard operating procedure.
          Precise cuts with a chainsaw are a challenge.

    • There is nothing sacred about pressure treated wood. It is actually a foulness that leeches deadly chemicals into the water. Besides, once a hole is drilled for a fastener the water can get right behind the pressure treated depth and penetrate the wood. A better procedure would be to use quality hard wood and/or apply pine tar and linseed oil as regular maintenance. Curiously, while pressure treated poison is allowed in the water the old fashioned creosote is not.

      • The last time I drilled through a pressure treated 8 x 8 it was pretty much green all the way through.
        Pressure treatment is not paint.
        The pressure treatment is forced, under pressure, up nad through the grain of the wood.
        What is the life cycle cost of pressure treated softwood versus untreated hardwood?
        Would you have to paint the hardwood every year?

    • Do you have any data on the life cycle cost of wood versus composite?
      That will answer the question.

      • Ajay– what I am saying is that if government policies, tax breaks and subsidies were applied differently , the cost of lumber would go up, and the price of engineered recycled plastic products would go down. That would bring the life cycle cost into a more realistic accounting.

  3. oaksbluff– what are you thinking ? Don’t you know that people need JOBS ? If things were built correctly, it would cost more money up front, the executives would not get huge bonuses, and then they would not be able to create menial jobs at a subsistence level of income.
    Hopefully, that will not be the case after the great realisation.

  4. Don’t you know that if you people had voted for the right County Commissioners they would have appointed dondondon12 to the SSA Board of Governors and that not one penny would leak out.

    • ajay– I honestly don’t know if you are saying something nice about me, or insulting me.

  5. Perhaps we could invest in military style landing craft, just dump everyone and everything onto south beach, by-passing the ‘authority’

      • The only way that the SSA can continue exist is to regulate it’s competition.
        It’s competition is very aware that there is no profit to made in winter.
        That is why they shut down .

  6. Re; Dondon and the great realisation- A lovely video and sentiment, yes. But until people and their governments understand that neither more nor bigger isn’t the same as better, that growth at all costs does more harm than good, I’m afraid that even the virus won’t be enough to stop the madness of unchecked capitalism and it’s unregulated effects.
    I’d also add that it’s pretty hard to believe that the SSA will manage a two-part reconstruction of the OB docks in order to allow some ferries to operate here beginning in late June, without substantial cost overruns, given the issues that always seem to come up under their management.

  7. Galvanized hardware and pressure treated wood have become the standard for dock building because they are cheap, and cheap is what wins bids. If a genuine USCG licensed and experienced deck officer were appointed to run the SSA many things like this would change real quick.

    • hanley- Ideally, we would have extruded recycled plastic products as an option.
      Unfortunately, because the governments around the world have not put any sort of mechanism in place to reflect the true cost of manufacturing, we are stuck with untenable options for a project such as this.
      Most governments subsidize the lumber industry by paying for the construction of logging roads into government owned forest , and letting the lumber companies clear cut large swaths of forest with no regard for the environmental damage, and at a very low cost per acre. In the mean time, there are no incentives to recycle plastic into usable building materials. Yeah, we see an occasional park bench, but I would love to have recycled plastic 4×4’s for my compost bin. They are available only by special order and are very expensive because the true cost of throwing plastic into the ocean is not taken into account.
      A pressure treated 8 ft 4×4 cost $13 — A recycled plastic one cost $38 plus shipping.

      • Are you trying to say that from a life cycle cost point of view that $38 recycled is less expensive than $13 pressure treated?

      • Plastic has found it’s way into certain marine applications such as floating docks and revetment material. I am not aware of any information as to it’s strength in compression (needed for wharf foundations).

    • What USCG docks use stainless hardware?
      Keep in mind that for our military cost is no object, often.

      A genuine USCG licensed and experienced deck officer does not know squat about dock building.
      My brother has a genuine USCG Unlimited Masters License and 20 years of experience as Master.
      He knows a lot about boats, very little about docks, nothing about how to run parking lots, ticket offices and marketing.
      The most important skills for the SSA leader are political.

      • Aye, and those “important skills” are what have led the SSA to where it is now.

  8. This needs to be taken care of ASAP and done right!!! Davis needs to go once and for all

    • islander– blah blah blah— please say something constructive rather than just yell about a scapegoat.

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