There is time to change course


To the Editor:

Construction on the Steamship Authority’s vastly over-scaled terminal building in Woods Hole village has not yet begun, and James Malkin, the Vineyard appointee to the SSA board, is already distancing himself from the coming monstrosity.

He reported recently in an update to the Dukes County Commission that he’s “not comfortable with the big terminal building, but the horse is out of the barn on that one.” Is this an admission that plans are flawed and should be changed?

Mr. Malkin, more than any single individual, has the opportunity to influence the shape of the final project. The Vineyard board member controls 35 percent of the vote on the SSA board. Mr. Malkin has already served on the board for 2½ years.

Could Falmouth appointee to the SSA board Peter Jeffrey reopen the planning process for the landside design of the Woods Hole project with support by Mr. Malkin? It would only take one more board member to support Mr. Jeffrey and Mr. Malkin for the Steamship Authority to change course on the coming calamity for Woods Hole village.

What about the cost of the coming large ticket building? The reconstruction project is already tens of millions of dollars over budget. The cost overruns have meant that the Steamship Authority has had no choice but to search for used vessels and to pay to modify them rather than to build their own vessels. The SSA will not be able to afford to build its own new vessels for years to come. Electrification of the fleet will be further delayed.

Why the need for five ticket windows in the new ticket building in Woods Hole? Will those five windows ever be open simultaneously? When will the Steamship Authority’s tickets be all electronic like those of almost every other transportation agency in the world?

Waste and mismanagement are already on clear display at the Woods Hole terminal concerning the reconstruction project. The 2½ awnings serve no practical purpose and cost more than $5 million. The awnings entirely fail to protect passengers from the elements.

We are confident that Vineyard residents and businesses are not interested in continued overspending on the Woods Hole terminal reconstruction project. After all, it is your fares that today and for many years in the future will be paying for the terminal building. Vineyarders just this week learned of proposed new fare hikes for next year.

The SSA was not established to act without regard for the well-being of the port communities on which it now has such a negative impact. When did the definition of the SSA become to ignore the needs and wishes of the majority of those in the townships that appoint them?

Until the SSA Enabling Act is changed legislatively to define more clearly the SSA’s role, obligations and limitations, the SSA cannot be forced to change how it acts. SSA senior staff will continue to do largely as they please.

At the same time, a more active and constructive SSA board today could help steer the SSA to become a better neighbor and to improve its services. Change can happen, but in this case, it must be actively pursued by those who take on the role of SSA board members.

Jim Malkin campaigned for his appointment by the Dukes County Commission with the slogan “boats before buildings.” We continue to see only the opposite, to the detriment of Woods Hole village and the entire region.

Damien Kuffler

Woods Hole