SSA hearing gets heated

Falmouth residents expressed dismay with ferry boat administration for failing to prioritize mainland residents.

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Numerous Falmouth residents testified at the Steamship Authority public hearing on Wednesday in objection to proposed changes to the ferry operating schedule for 2023.

The Steamship Authority took testimony at a public hearing on Wednesday, June 8, regarding its proposed 2023 schedule for crossings between Woods Hole and Martha’s Vineyard, particularly the SSA’s early morning freight runs, which launch at 5:30 am.

The public hearing drew an array of Falmouth residents who petitioned for the public hearing using a provision of the SSA’s enabling act.

General manager Robert Davis said the SSA received the petition May 31 that was signed by 160 Falmouth residents who object specifically to the 5:30 am freight ferries between Woods Hole and Martha’s Vineyard “only during its summer operating schedule,” via the MV Governor ferry, from May 18 to Oct. 23. The authority is also proposing to continue to limit the truck size to vehicles less than 40 feet in length, a regulation adopted in 2018 to mitigate noise emitted by truck traffic near the Woods Hole terminal. 

Although no particular opinions were expressed by the SSA, Davis opened the hearing emphasizing that the proposed schedule is “essentially the same operating schedules that were approved for 2022 … As well as the same freight operating schedules that were run in 2018, 2019, and 2021.” The same freight schedule was approved for 2020, but the schedule was modified because of COVID-19.

Falmouth resident Nathaniel Trumbull, who submitted the petition on behalf of the 160 Falmouth residents objecting to the proposed changes, expressed concerns about the “long-term health hazards from prolonged exposure” to diesel truck–emitted soot. “The 56,000 freight trucks that the SSA carried through our communities in 2021 are all diesel trucks,” he said. “We experience the diesel soot from those trucks in our air, we see the soot on our windows and windowsills, and we breathe that diesel soot.”

Trumbull said that in addition to health hazards, the proposed schedule creates public safety concerns when “18- to 20-wheel trucks carried by the Steamship can be so heavy that they are unable to stop for school buses.”

He said when he followed a truck driver to the Woods Hole terminal to ask why “he hadn’t stopped in time for a school bus that was picking up children,” the driver allegedly told him that “his load was too heavy to stop in time for that school bus.” 

Trumbull is a member of the Falmouth–Woods Hole noise and traffic working group, which he said suggested to the SSA that they ask the State Police truck unit to conduct weight checks at the terminal and on the Vineyard, but does not believe the police have ever been contacted. 

Falmouth petitioners also expressed concerns about inaccessibility to the hospital in the event of an emergency due to traffic backups near the Woods Hole terminal. 

Falmouth resident Damien Kuffler expressed his dissatisfaction with the SSA, accusing the authority of “never [acting] in good faith and [doing] nothing but obstruct progress.”

“[The SSA has] done nothing that might show social consciousness, a moral compass, social or financial integrity,” he said. 

Kuffler continued, “The Steamship Authority has provided us with nothing but lies. The public receives nothing from the SSA but complete disdain for anything except what its narrow-minded leadership wants it to do, which is aways in its own self-interest, regardless of the damage it does to the local and wider communities, as well as the environment.”

Numerous Falmouth residents spoke out about the early morning ferries. 

Falmouth resident Ed Dewitt, who lives near Watson’s Corner, “a significant chokepoint” for terminal-bound trucks, quoted from SSA’s enabling act. The SSA is “to provide adequate transportation of persons and necessities of life,” he said. Dewitt took issue with the term

“necessities” of life, asserting that necessities of life are “food, shelter, medical attention, and protection from harm.”

“Hauling trash away from the Island is not a [necessity] of life activity … hauling landscapers and their equipment back and forth on a daily basis is not a [necessity] of life activity.” Dewitt continued, “Most of what the SSA is hauling has nothing to do with the necessities of life.” 

Vineyard resident Kat Monterosso testified after finding out about the hearing on NPR while waiting in standby — the next available reservation was 5:30 am June 19 — at Woods Hole terminal following an emergency off-Island appointment for her dog. Monterosso said it isn’t the first time an emergency situation has occurred, prompting her to get on the next available boat. She said she empathizes with Falmouth residents, noting “these are valid and serious issues that do need to be addressed,” but emphasized that changes to the SSA schedules would have serious repercussions for Martha’s Vineyard residents. “I’m just urging folks to please remember we live over here, year-round, and we cannot — [even] for a season — accommodate the traffic of [Vineyard-bound] tourists — that a lot of us, personally, don’t want to deal with either. We can’t be banned from our homes seven days a week.”

The SSA will consider the testimony and submit draft reports to the authority’s board members “recommending either that the authority maintains portions of its 2023 schedules as originally proposed, or that it make modifications to those proposed schedules.”

1 COMMENT

  1. Per the last paragraph, we have seen this movie before, we do not need to wait for the draft reports to be submitted: the schedule will be kept the same. It’s interesting that they’re going through the motions, but I don’t know if we can really call that “something.”

    I think Ed Dewitt makes the best points as quoted. Hauling over endless building materials and landscaping supplies are obviously not in legal terms comporting with the Enabling Act. I think we should also consider laughing ruefully at the use of that word, “enabling.” Yup, that’s exactly the right word for this.

    you gotta love dogs, it figures that the reason we might need to keep the boats is because of a sick pooch. The real problem is Mr. Dewitt’s observation.

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