United Parcel Service (UPS) trucks will travel from New Bedford to Nantucket via tug-propelled barges, if a freight proposal made to Steamship Authority management is endorsed by the ferry line’s board.
SSA general manager Robert Davis told the port council that 41 North Offshore LLC, a New Bedford marine company, wants a license from the ferry line to ship freight to Nantucket through a pilot program. The company submitted a proposal for the program on March 24, Davis said.
The company has “partnered” with UPS on the program, and UPS would be the “initial customer.” The program would run from May to October, and “consist of up to 70 round-trips, each trip carrying an average of three tractor-trailer equivalents,” Davis said. However, he noted the barge could take up to five trucks at a time.
News of the proposal comes in the wake of a scheduling disaster for the shipping giant. As The Times previously reported, UPS didn’t make its summer reservations for Nantucket in time, and lost out on lots of space needed for its trucks. First reported by the Nantucket Current, the scheduling debacle made national and international news. UPS had a much less impactful reservation setback on the Vineyard route. It didn’t lose space like it did on the Nantucket route, but it didn’t secure passage at all the times it wanted.
The 41 North Offshore barge would travel between the Fish Island Terminal in New Bedford and the SSA terminal on Nantucket. Davis said he expected a public hearing on the proposal April 19, ahead of the SSA board meeting.
Nantucket’s port council member Nathaniel Lowell called the proposal “good,” and said it effectively would restart, in an improved manner, barge service Nantucket previously had.
In response to a question by Falmouth council member Robert Munier, Davis said by and large, the Nantucket proposal isn’t analogous with the RFP recently approved by the board for Vineyard freight service — something Woods Hole residents have been pushing for over the past several years because of noise and congestion in their village.
“I think they’re two separate things. This one is an offer to provide, and that’s why we’re looking at it in the same manner as a regular license request,” Davis said. He added that one similarity they do have is that the SSA will seek a dockage fee for the use of its facility for either proposal. What that fee might be wasn’t discussed.
When asked for an update on the “common carrier” (UPS) and its reservations scheduling issues, Davis, as he had in the past, avoided mentioning UPS by name, even though he had mentioned it by name in the context of barge service.
“Following the board meeting,” Davis said, “the staff did what the board had approved in terms of going through the trips and consolidating what space could work as truck space, and the common carrier has been, at this point — we provided them with an updated list of what reservations they now have, and their position on the waitlist for other trips.”
Reached after the meeting, 41 North Offshore co-owner Jonah Mikutowicz told The Times the barge he intends to use for the service is 130 feet long, 40 feet wide, and is typically towed as opposed to being pushed. Mikutowicz said his company has three tugboats capable of doing the work. On approach to Nantucket, he said, the tug would cease towing and take the barge on the hip to the SSA terminal. Mikutowicz said his company already provides modular home and bulk aggregate freight service to Nantucket. He said his company and UPS reached out to each other to strike an accord. He expressed enthusiasm at the prospect of a license agreement with the SSA. “I really think it could be a great benefit to the island,” he said.
In other business, Oak Bluffs port council member Joe Sollitto asked if eight piling repairs would be completed at the Oak Bluffs terminal in time for the May opening.
“They’re working on that,” Davis said. “We have the materials onsite.”
Davis said the “last estimate” he had was that the work would be done at the end of April, “a couple weeks before the facility is scheduled to open.”
Sollitto asked why the problematic pilings weren’t discovered during previous inspections.
Davis said as part of other work, “material” was removed “along the mudline,” and rot was discovered.
“I think it wasn’t something that was visible from an initial survey,” Davis added.
When asked by The Times about a truck incident that plugged up the Island Home, Davis said the brakes locked up on a truck aboard the ferry. The truck was “closest to the door,” he said, thus blocking the exit of other vehicles.
An Edgartown homeowner told The Times she and her husband were waiting for a 6:30 boat on Friday in Woods Hole when the problem unfolded. The homeowner said SSA staff tried to pull the truck off the ferry with “a small tractor thing,” and then tried to get somebody else to use their vehicle to pull the truck out. With nothing working, the homeowner said, the ferry pulled away and turned around to offload vehicles.
The homeowner said “it took quite a long time” for vehicles to back out. The truck finally started, the homeowner said, and was the last to leave the ferry.
The homeowner alleged, “Nobody came over to tell us anything,” and her husband had to ask terminal staff what was happening. She said she was irked because she and her husband didn’t get on the next boat, even though they had a reservation. She said she and her husband spent $2,200 on passage last year, and are dissatisfied, and have considered divesting from the Vineyard.
“We need to just sell this place,” she said she told her husband. “We need to get out of here.”
Davis confirmed the vessel spun around.
“So at one point the vessel had to be flipped around in order to get the vehicles off, because they weren’t able to free the brakes on it. They weren’t able to get a tow truck to be able to take care of it. Arrangements were made that someone was going to be meeting the vessel in Vineyard Haven to take care of it, but in the meantime, the driver was able to free the brakes … and was able to get the truck off the boat on its own accord, but it did cause a delay, and the boat had already flipped around at that point.”