Work together on SSA issues

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To the Editor:

When the SSA first publicly announced its fast-track purchase of three 15-year-old offshore supply vessels (OSVs) as replacement freight vessels, few could foresee how mistaken and misguided that decision would be. It is now clear that the SSA management was wrong at almost every step of the process.

First, SSA senior staff cost estimates for refitting the OSVs were so far off that they bordered on malfeasance. Refitting costs jumped from $4 million to $13.6 million per vessel, a $30 million cost miscalculation for all three vessels. SSA board members were not aware of the error until after the OSVs were purchased.

Second, the SSA’s boats account for 15 percent of today’s Vineyard’s carbon expenditure. However, by purchasing these fossil-fuel-guzzling OSVs, which may serve the Islands for another two to three decades, the SSA chose to significantly increase that percentage with a serious long-term negative environmental impact. This error may prevent the Vineyard from reaching its publicly announced 100 percent renewable energy goals by 2040.

Third, the phenomenal costs of retrofitting the OSVs with hybrid engines will likely make that impossible. This is because the SSA is already financially overextended, needing to float bonds to help finance the $32 million new Woods Hole ticketing building, $65 million for the completed waterside reconstruction, $16 million for its Falmouth administrative building, and $4 million for the temporary ticket office, which was adequate for its permanent final ticketing building, but which will soon be demolished.

Fourth, why has the SSA not more actively sought federal funding for more climate-friendly vessel replacement under once-in-a-lifetime grant opportunities in Washington? SSA senior staff and board have moved in the opposite direction, by purchasing three fossil-fuel-only OSVs.

Fifth, the SSA kept largely quiet about the new OSVs’ having a 25 percent larger vehicle capacity than the Sankaty and Katama. Simple SSA cash-flow philosophy, class 100: Build It and They Will Come. Vineyard residents already complain about the terrible Five Corners traffic tie-ups. Can anyone imagine the additional traffic backup problems in Vineyard Haven and Woods Hole due to a 25 percent increase in trucks and vehicles with each OSV departure and arrival?

For years, Falmouth residents have pushed to reduce, and not increase, traffic to Martha’s Vineyard. However, predominant Vineyard voices claimed their mainland neighbors were threatening their lifeline. They dismissed every Falmouth concern as petty, such as increased traffic congestion, increased diesel soot and noise pollution from very large trucks, children’s safety issues along Woods Hole Road, and other adverse health concerns.

By not listening to reason, Dukes County commissioners and other Vineyard leaders will finally get the bigger SSA lifeline they have yearned for: It brings ever more trucks and vehicles. In achieving their goal, they created a noose that will strangle the Vineyard in ever more serious traffic problems, higher ticket costs, and long-term negative environmental impacts. As usual, it will be too late to do anything.

It is time to bring people from both sides of the water together to discuss how to solve our common problem. Falmouth residents alone cannot bring Island residents to the table if they are not interested, or are unwilling to see what is happening to them.

The SSA’s purchase of three used OSVs encapsulates much of the SSA’s management failings and the serious oversight shortcomings of its board members, whom the SSA leads by the nose. The SSA demonstrates little forward-looking or creative thinking. It is time for Island leaders to take responsibility and look for professional and external guidance on how to exercise their overwhelming 70 percent of the SSA board vote. Rubber-stamping SSA senior staff recommendations has proven to be nothing but poor policy.

 

Damien Kuffler
Woods Hole