SSA board okays special piling materials

Custom remedy necessitated by ‘nest of boulders’ triggers change order ire.

Steamship Authority board members questioned change orders on the ongoing Woods Hole terminal project. -George Brennan

At a special one-item meeting Wednesday, March 24, the Steamship Authority board voted unanimously to approve a $173,552 change order for the $53 million waterside portion of the Woods Hole Terminal reconstruction project. The money will be used to purchase materials for a custom gravity anchor needed to secure a shallow piling work. Debate stretched over an hour as board members questioned an engineer about the piling project and leveraged the change order request into a rebuke of cost management for the overall project.

Nantucket board member Robert Ranney and Vineyard board member Jim Malkin appeared slightly skeptical of the custom piling fix, especially its longevity. 

Falmouth board member Kathryn Wilson, who is chair, and New Bedford board member Moira Tierney expressed particular concern with the scale of change orders to date and the contracts and project management that govern the change orders. At a few points during the deliberation, Tierney made pointed remarks about the change orders and expressed dismay they totaled $7.6 million.

Described as a “gravity dolphin structure” by SSA general manager Robert Davis, the custom solution is meant to secure piling work that could only be driven 14 to 18 feet as opposed to the 45 foot design depth. The piling work secures a dolphin, the south head dolphin specifically, a structural part of the ferry slip. Davis said a “box-like” structure of steel and concrete would encase the pile work and hold it securely through friction and sheer weight. 

Wilson pressed on Davis what the whole cost of the piling work would be. “So what’s the overall expectation of costs related to this issue?” she asked. 

“We’re probably looking at somewhere in the area of a half million dollars there,” Davis said.

Tierney accused SSA brass of being too quick to finance change orders and not compelling  contractors to shoulder some responsibility. She decried what she claimed was a failure to outline the potential for various change orders at the outset of the overall project.

Malkin agreed. “The board needs to know what the contingencies might be,” he said. 

Tierney said she felt a “bait and switch” scenario was at play.

Davis reminded Tierney that J. Cashman Inc. bid lower than what the waterside project was estimated at.

Robert Jones, Barnstable’s representative on the board, said he didn’t think anyone was to blame for the extra costs associated with the piling. He said the geological layout of the area — rife with glacial detritus — made encountering a subterranean impediment likely. 

Dino Fiscaletti, an GZA GeoEnvironmental Inc. engineer working on the piling fix, told the board piledriving is fraught with uncertainty.

“There’s nothing more mysterious in construction than piledriving,” he said. 

At the site for the south head dolphin, beneath the bed of the harbor, Fiscaletti said a nest of boulders was encountered. 

“Immediately to the north,” he said, “is the platform that supports the gallows frame for the transfer bridge. There are six piles that support each side of the frame. On the south side, abutting this head dolphin, the contractor managed to fish through, I literally mean he poked and fished through six piles. He hit obstructions, would move around, and was able to find a gap to get those piles through. And we got those piles in. And that was what we thought we would be able to do with the south head dolphin, but the boulders were even thicker just a few feet to the south.” 

“So these things are not secured to the bottom other than by gravity and their own weight, and friction, I get that,” Ranney said. “But what about over the 50-year lifespan that we’re expecting of this with the boat everyday, multiple times a day, not banging into them but pushing them. Even when it comes into the dock gently, it does push on these things everytime. So is there any concern over the lifetime of this that…gradual little pushes very day are going to do anything?”

Fiscaletti said he “put an additional factor of safety” into the design by making the box-like structure larger than calculations called for. 

“I think it needs to be larger than what the numbers say,” he said. 

Ranney said he was concerned that years from now the dolphin gets “pushed out of place” and can’t be put back in place because it’s too heavy.

Fiscaletti said any gap such an occurrence created could be filled by stone or cement.

Malkin asked Davis to bring to the board data about any similar gravity structure in use elsewhere, specifically “what has happened to that over time.”

Malkin went on to say, “I can just see us whacking it with tugboats trying to move it back in position later…”

Fiscaletti said if it moves, “it’s not going to be moved back. It’s just that big and that heavy.”

Though he qualified that by saying that since much of it is concrete, it could be drilled to install extra anchoring if the need arose to shore it after it moved. 

Later asked by The Times how heavy it actually was, Fiscaletti was unable to immediately say.

Davis noted the slip the dolphin services will most often be occupied by the Island Home. That ferry is the largest in the ferry line’s fleet. 

When the roll call vote was taken, Tierney said at her turn, “very reluctantly aye.”