SSA project is out of scale


To the Editor:

I would like to share my comments made at the Jan. 19 community input meeting of the Steamship Authority’s landside 90 percent design phase of its Woods Hole terminal.

The Enabling Act of the Steamship Authority instructs the SSA to provide “adequate” ferry service of “persons and necessaries.” The takeaway from the 1956 legislative action is that “adequate” is focused on the “necessaries of life” and not on the convenience of moving an on-demand system. There is nothing necessary about this terminal ticket building. 

On April 7, 2021, after the first community input meeting of March 23, 21 members of the community submitted 18 follow-up questions to the SSA. The SSA responded only in May 2021. SSA management did not justify the excessive number of ticketing windows in the terminal. Nor did management give a clear explanation of traffic flow, especially during peak season. Nor did management recognize that though the design for the Woods Hole ticket building went from 6,665 square feet to 5,631 square feet, the footprint of the ticket building remained the same. Nor did management note that the 1,034 square feet that were taken off the ticket building morphed into 2,526 square feet added to the utility building, bringing that building to 7,204 square feet. Nor did the SSA point out that the 20-foot-high ticket building will be on top of a 13-foot gradient, thus very probably obscuring existing water views from many locations in Woods Hole village. 

On studying the plans, I note that the current island between the embankment and the exit, with its beech and maple, will be eliminated. Cars will be staged behind the terminal building. Drivers waiting in their cars will have no or little visibility of the loading ferries.

I note that the 200 percent increase of pedestrian space, acclaimed by the architects, was acquired by extending the Steamship Authority’s whole property 90 feet into Great Harbor. Considering that the breadth of the three slips is approximately 400 feet, that represented a taking of 36,000 square feet of public waterway. The immense berths now partially block the exit from the Eel Pond, are highly unattractive from the harborside, and have destroyed the overall proportions of the site, both landside and waterside. 

Concerning the third slip, the northernmost slip, I note that when it was close to the Naushon dock, its use was limited by an agreement with the Naushon Trust. This made for a simple haven with a harbor view from the corner of Luscombe and Railroad Ave. Three years ago we were informed that due to an impenetrable rock ledge, the third slip had to be moved south, putting it conveniently outside of any restrictions on its use. 

Cars and trucks coming off the third slip in future will descend the 10-foot gradient at the height of the ramp, pass through a 35-foot passage between the west side of the terminal lounge and the border of Cahoon Park, and have 45 feet to descend the 8.5-foot gradient and exit. I note that even if the curb of Luscombe is respected, the third slip, with its off-ramp quasi-flush to Railroad Ave., eliminates the character of that corner. 

I am relieved that the team has at last decided on LEED certification for the terminal buildings, but as Rob Hannemann of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s Climate Action Task Force wrote on Nov. 15 in the paper, “The SSA today uses roughly 10 percent of the fossil fuel attributable to Martha’s Vineyard, largely but not totally in the ferries …” He added, “Plug-in hybrid propulsion could result in a significant reduction in emissions — perhaps as much as 95 percent.” Yet we see no sign of recharging stations in the landside design plan. 

Woods Hole village has received the gift of leaky “butterfly” cement-pillared canopies decorated with nautical charts, installed without community consultation. Due to their height and placement, they do not protect passengers boarding the ferries, and their bright lights make night navigation difficult when coming from the west through the passage. More recently we learned that due to inadequate probing of the substrate at the first slip, monopiles cannot be driven to an appropriate depth, and the necessary reinforcement will be a concrete enclosure, the top of which is expected to be at +10 feet.

Since July 2021 a petition has been circulating to object to the overdevelopment of Woods Hole village by the Steamship Authority. The petition now has 1,034 signatures collected online and at the coffee shop Pie in the Sky, whose charmed water view will also be partially lost. 

Last week’s and previous community forums have been mere formalities for the SSA. But for me, they have been a painful encounter with a predatory enterprise that feels itself entitled to destroy the social and physical ecosystem of a village while congratulating itself for fulfilling the mission of bringing “necessities” to another community also suffering from overdevelopment. 

There is nothing that justifies this new terminal in Woods Hole village with its immense waiting room and extravagant plaza complete with potted bushes and synthetic stone-shaped sitting devices in the middle of a transit zone, but to keep the business solvent, there will be ever more need for publicity for “Fun Ferry Fridays,” higher prices, and ever more funneling of cars and freight traffic into the bottleneck of Woods Hole village. 

A 21st century port visionary would be someone who has studied the ferry systems in the Norwegian fjords and in Washington State, someone who “thinks globally and acts locally,” who is an advocate of waterfront resilience, and someone who understands the need to reduce traffic flow into a small village, maximize circulation within a limited space by building a small terminal building without a lounge area, set back and off to the side of the lot, a project that could apply for, if not earn, LEED points for site authenticity. 

While the SSA is protected by its “quasi-autonomous status,” we are left wondering: What is the part of the SSA that protects the quality of life of Falmouth and Woods Hole residents? My sincere hope is that an enlightened SSA will seriously reconsider the landside design of its reconstruction project before it violates further the rights of commonwealth residents.


Eugenie Kuffler
Woods Hole