The 5:30 am freight ferries were a topic of discussion for the Steamship Authority board Tuesday morning, in response to a June 8 public hearing that mostly criticized the ferry service for not working with Woods Hole residents to mitigate noise and traffic.
Though SSA general manager Robert Davis said the 2023 schedule would likely be voted on in August, that didn’t stop board members from discussing the scheduling issues and the public hearing.
During a lengthy comment about the ongoing angst by Woods Hole residents toward the 5:30 am freight ferry, Robert Jones, the Barnstable representative to the board, pointed out that Barnstable wasn’t initially welcoming to the SSA in Hyannis. It took getting officials together with the SSA to ease the tensions.
“I would suggest that perhaps the town fathers of Falmouth meet with county commissioners or the individual townships on the Vineyard and keep it simple, go out to lunch somewhere, and sit down and try to diplomatically resolve these issues,” Jones said. “If they’re not resolvable, you have to say this is the way it’s going to be, and I’m not going to get ulcers over it.”
Peter Jeffrey, who represents Falmouth on the board, pushed back. He said he will likely vote the way his appointing authority — the Falmouth select board — has asked him to vote, which is against the 5:30 am ferry. He did call on his fellow board members to consider another way that the SSA could demonstrate it is listening to the concerns, by calling in the Massachusetts State Police truck enforcement unit to ensure that the trucks are complying with noise regulations and weight restrictions.
“We need to hear through the noise,” Jeffrey said. “I married into an old Yankee Cape Cod family. Everyone here understands grievances become generational amongst you Yankees. Sometimes the reason for the grievances may have gotten lost in the historical facts, but nevertheless there’s a message to be heard, and there are some strategies we could find at least to show we are aware of their concerns and that we’re addressing them even if it isn’t changing the ferry’s schedule as it is, but looking at seeking outside enforcement from the truck enforcement group from the State Police.”
Jim Malkin, the Vineyard representative, chimed in to point out that the Vineyard wants and needs the early ferries. He thanked Jeffrey for his “wise, thoughtful, and judicious comments” before pointing out that things have indeed been done to mitigate noise and traffic.
“We have taken proactive steps,” Malkin said. “The SSA is found to be doing nothing if they’re not getting 100 percent of what they want.”
Malkin pointed out that MassDOT and Falmouth Police have looked into noise complaints, but he suggested he would be supportive of having other enforcement agencies take a fresh look at the issues. “I’m happy to try to find a way to work with you,” he said.
Jones said it would be up to the Falmouth select board to request that the State Police take a look.
The discussion was interrupted by the SSA’s annual audit, and the board never came back to the topic.
In other business, the board voted 4-0 to support raises for nonunion personnel. Board chair Moira Tierney, the New Bedford representative, was absent, so the meeting was run by vice chair Robert Ranney of Nantucket.
According to Davis, each grade level will be increased by 2.2 percent. Then individual employees could also receive up to a 3.3 percent overall raise depending on performance. The increases proposed and supported by the board were based on a national survey done by a consultant.
The nonunion personnel covered by the salary increase include about 90 employees made up of administrative staff, terminal staff, and some parking lot attendants. It does not include Davis, who is reviewed by the board.
Jeffrey asked why the treasurer, which is appointed by the board per the Enabling Act, is not reviewed by the board.
Davis said he does the treasurer’s review, as well as the review of the general counsel, because he works with them on a day-to-day basis.
“As the former treasurer himself, I think Bob is most qualified to evaluate the treasurer,” Ranney said. He added that he’s open to making changes.
Malkin and Jeffrey took the opportunity to ask Davis how the shortage of workers on the Cape and Islands overall is affecting the SSA.
“We do have a number of individuals who have retired over the last year or two — not just at the administrative level but at the terminal side,” Davis said. “It’s been a process much like we’ve been going through with senior staff. It has been difficult in some regards to fill these positions.”
Port engineers have been particularly difficult, he said, noting they were recommended by the HMS report.
The grant administrator and even the chief operating officer haven’t had as many applicants as Davis expected. “I would have thought that position would have drawn more interest at this point than it has,” he said of the COO job he initially resisted hiring for until state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, and state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, filed legislation that got the SSA’s attention.
Jeffrey suggested perhaps offering potential grant administrator candidates be allowed to work virtually, something Davis said he would explore.
Meanwhile, the SSA also agreed to pay Lawrence Lynch nearly $3 million to do site work for the new terminal building in Woods Hole as that project shifts from the sea side to land side. An unrelated change order of $371,565 was awarded to BIA.studio for their ongoing design work.
The board also authorized Davis to sell off 61 items deemed surplus — all of the items are expected to take in less than $5,000, and include things like shuttle vans in disrepair, luggage carts, and other vehicles. Davis said employees and their families are prohibited from purchasing the items.
A request by the Martha’s Vineyard Police Chiefs Association through Edgartown Chief Bruce McNamee to post an information poster at terminals and on ferries was approved by the board.
“We’re trying to make sure that people coming to the Vineyard realize that they’re not driving on the streets of Manhattan or Westchester or D.C., or wherever they’re coming from,” Malkin said. “The roads are narrower, the traffic is slower, there’s sand on the sides of the roads, and all the things we on the Island deal with and Cape communities deal with as well. To try to make it safer as people face the summer congestion.”