Updated Sept. 23
In a 4-0 vote Tuesday morning, the Steamship Authority board approved a $752,524 contract for the second phase of repair work to the Oak Bluffs ferry terminal. The contract was awarded to Coastal Marine Construction of Canton, the same company that executed initial repairs on the terminal under a $267,524 contract. The other bidders for the second phase work were ACK Marine and General Contracting of Quincy, with a bid of $902,500, and Robert B. Our of Harwich with a bid of $1,263,351.
SSA general manager Robert Davis told the board that of 20 bid packages sent out, only three were returned. Davis said the work Coastal Marine Construction will do consists of replacing approximately 30 pilings and 331 linear feet of piling caps, along with “miscellaneous” stringer repairs.
Coastal Marine Construction previously replaced 13 pilings and about 24 feet of piling caps at the terminal following the discovery of unsafe conditions along the pier. The work was done in a timely manner, but was stopgap to ensure the terminal would be open for the summer. The work did not strengthen the pier to handle heavy freight vehicles, and the SSA was forced to prohibit anything heavier than a pickup truck from crossing the terminal pier.
At the meeting, Nantucket representative Robert Ranney expressed concern winter weather would undo Coastal Marine Construction’s work.
“I’m concerned about the timing of this,” he said. “What’s the timeframe that we’re going to be going ahead with this?”
“They’ll start work following that terminal closing on the 20th of October,” Davis said, “and the contract includes completion of the work before year-end, and there is some liquidated damages in the contract as well.”
“Are we concerned about arriving in[to] next spring and the winter has damaged what we’ve just done?” Ranney asked.
“We’re concerned about the condition of the dock itself, and whether we’d be experiencing even more damage to it without reinforcing it when we have a chance,” Davis said. “So we’re continuing to push through getting this done this year.”
“I agree,” Ranney said, “I think that was my position last spring.”
He went on to reiterate his fear about winter: “I just don’t want to get to next spring and find out that the money we’ve just spent and all the work we’ve just done is ruined [by] one or two winter storms.”
Mark Amundsen, director of marine operations, said in addition to the contract work, the budget for 2021 sets aside funds to “jacket” some of the piling to withstand heavy tractor trailers and help stave off future damage. He also said some decking repair work was slated.
Oak Bluffs selectman Brian Packish, who has been a sharp critic of the Steamship Authority in regard to the repair of the terminal pier, told The Times after the meeting that the terminal needs to be open on time in the spring.
“The town of Oak Bluffs has made its position very clear,” he said. “The terminal needs to be open in the spring, and needs to stay open as late as possible.
He described the terminal as a “massive driver” of the local economy at a time when “most of our businesses are hanging on by a shoestring.”
Next season, he said, it was important for those businesses to recoup their pandemic losses and the losses associated with the terminal closure. “Next year is pretty much the most important opening ever,” he said. Packish said he hopes Oak Bluffs business will rebound.
He described the reason the terminal previously reached such a dilapidated state as squarely the fault of the SSA. “The Steamship Authority missed the mark on this thing by lollygagging around,” he said.
In the ongoing effort to stave off the novel coronavirus, Davis told the board SSA employees continue to routinely sanitize the vessels and employees themselves continue to be screened.
“We do continue to provide our vessel crews, at the beginning of their watch, a wellness screening by a trained medical professional,” Davis said. “We are aware that professional may not be able to continue that service too much longer, because of other obligations they have, but we’ll continue to work with them.”
For shoreside employees, Davis said, no contact thermal scanners have recently been put to use.
In August, three ferry workers tested positive for COVID-19. At the time, SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll declined to say whether screening methods used by the ferry line detected the positive workers. Subsequent contact tracing sidelined about 40 employees, and disrupted ferry schedules. The threat of greater disruption abated after tests came back negative, and people were allowed to return to their shifts. The ordeal underscored how impactful even a small number of COVID-19 cases could be on SSA ferry operations.
Davis told the board mask use still needs improvement. “Face coverings and mask compliance continue to be a challenge,” he said, “to put it nicely. We continue to put announcements on the PA systems at the terminal. We have signs posted on the buses. The vessels are making multiple announcements about wearing masks. But we continue to receive reports of masks not being worn.”
He went on to say during the warmer weather of the summer, folks tended to drop the masks. He hoped the cooler autumn weather might bring about “an uptick” in mask usage. “If they’re not wearing masks, we are asking them to go to the exterior portions of the vessels,” he said.
Davis said he reached out to other ferry operators across the country, and found mask usage was a problem for them as well.
Chair Jim Malkin pointed out general counsel Terence Kenneally was going to examine the possibility of refusing passage to people not wearing masks. Malkin also said while he appreciated the problem isn’t limited to the SSA, he’s nevertheless receiving comments of concern from passengers, including some parents whose kids go to Falmouth Academy, that maskless people are aboard the ferries. With the understanding SSA staff were putting hard work in on the problem, Malkin asked, “is there more that we can do?”
Davis said Kenneally researched the possibility of passage denial. “And his review of that is we cannot,” he said.
Davis said the SSA can only furnish “reasonable accommodations,” which he said meant relegating people without masks to exterior decks or inside their vehicles.
As far as SSA employees are concerned, Davis said he was sympathetic to how hard it was for them “on the front line,” because “it only takes a moment for them to drop their mask and a picture is taken.” But he also said there’s always room for improvement, as SSA employees are “setting the standard,” and if passengers “see our employees not wearing masks, then our customers feel that they don’t have to.”
When he shows up at the terminals, Davis says, and he’s recognized, “he sees a lot of people reaching to their neck and pulling up their masks. Unfortunately, I can’t be everywhere.”
Kenneally praised SSA employees for “dealing with obstinate people and difficult people.” He said situations have sometimes required police assistance. He said the SSA will continue to summon local police at the terminals and the Massachusetts State Police aboard ferries if the situation calls for it.
In other business, the ferry line bid farewell to reservation manager Gina Barboza, who is retiring after more than four decades of service. Angela Campbell, an SSA employee of nearly 20 years, was promoted to fill the vacancy left by Barboza. Also promoted was 17-year SSA employee Curt Van Riper, who will become director of information technology. With the retirement of Larry Ferreira, the SSA tapped Todd Falvey, a Department of Homeland Security retiree, as the next director of security.
Updated to include more details from Tuesday’s meeting.