Steamship shows its arrogance … again


In the news last week, the Steamship Authority administration recommended providing a permit to a New Bedford company to deliver freight trucks from the South Coast city to the Island on a year-round basis. 

Under the proposal, 41 North would use Vineyard Haven as a port of entry in the off-season, and Oak Bluffs in the summer for on-demand deliveries. Each barge and tugboat trip could carry up to five tractor trailers. 

The company — which already provides the service to Nantucket — says it could get supplies to the Island for weddings and other events, and could deliver construction equipment like excavators and skid steers. 

While the idea has merit, there are issues to consider before making it happen.

For now, what is most striking is the cavalier attitude of the Steamship Authority in recommending the idea, while, as we learned last week, not bothering to inform the town of Oak Bluffs — which would get additional truck traffic during the busy summer season under the proposal, never mind asking for the town’s opinion. 

Sadly, it’s all too typical of the Steamship leadership, which is supposed to serve the Island but all too often ignores our input.

In a general sense, 41 North’s proposal could benefit the region. Falmouth residents have long complained about large trucks barreling down their narrow roads in Woods Hole. After asking for freight traffic to be diverted to New Bedford for seemingly decades, it is good that the Steamship is open to the idea. Maybe not a Vineyard priority, but working with your neighbors is always a good thing.

For the Vineyard, however, there are real concerns. Tisbury officials — worried about even more freight traffic barreling down their roads — have already pushed back against the idea of allowing 41 North to use the downtown Steamship terminal. 

Large trucks already face a difficult time navigating the cramped and busy Five Corners intersection. Tisbury officials also worry about bringing barges in and out of a crowded harbor, and the impact to recreational boaters.

The town, with the select board’s backing, issued a letter to the Steamship laying out their fears, and opposing the idea.

If Tisbury has concerns, it would be logical to think that Oak Bluffs might have concerns as well. Unfortunately, logic hasn’t always won the day at the SSA offices. 

At a recent meeting, the Oak Bluffs representative to the Port Council says he isn’t opposed to the idea, but he’d like town officials to provide input before agreeing to anything.

In fairness to the Steamship, the impact from 41 North is likely to be minimal. Some Steamship representatives say that it’s not as if more goods will be coming to the Island; the company would just be diverting goods out of the existing supply chain. Instead of hopping on a Steamship ferry in Woods Hole, a truck driver can get off Interstate 195 in New Bedford.

And 41 North isn’t the largest operation. Under the request, it could transport up to five tractor-trailers, each carrying a load of up to the federal limit of 80,000 pounds.

The Steamship’s Governor freight vessel, in contrast, can carry 42 vehicles of varying sizes. And 41 North representatives say they likely won’t be making regular trips to the Island. 

There’s been support for the idea, including from the Island representative at the State House, Dylan Fernandes. He says the proposal will strengthen the existing lifeline, and 41 North has proven to be competent at shipping freight to Nantucket.

But let’s not forget that the pier operates within Oak Bluffs. Town officials there are likely the most important. And even if they do like the idea, the town could offer insight into how the operation might run effectively. 

As is the case in Tisbury, Oak Bluffs officials are hoping that the new freight boats would unload at slips operated by Vineyard Wind or Tisbury Towing, on Beach Road. By bringing barges to these slips, the trucks would be diverted from downtown. While maybe a long shot, these are ideas that wouldn’t be considered without Tisbury’s input. 

Not only is it arrogant to not include Oak Bluffs in the discussIon, it’s bad business. 

Thankfully, the Port Council has delayed making a decision until Oak Bluffs is informed, and they get more information.


  1. Somehow I really doubt that 41 north would just start
    bringing freight to the island without any approval
    or input from the local authorities.

  2. This is just another example of the steamship authority’s rudderless and worst in class leadership. Of equal concern is the complete lack of accountability to run a real time inventory based system which serves as a communities lifeline. The reservation system is archaic and boats continue to leave half full while mid week inventory consistently shows as sold out, affecting residents ability to perform basic life functions. ( see a particularly disturbing post in this week’s “Islander Talk “ Facebook page. ) Unfortunately it will likely take a tragic accident before any real significant change will occur. That or a more free market system that relinquishes this poorly run organization’s monopoly.

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