Alternatives To Steamship Authority's Proposed Renovations

I have been following the Steamship Authority’s plans for the Woods Hole terminal renovations, and the process by which they have reached their preliminary conclusions. The first public viewing of their plans was last November at the Woods Hole Community Hall, and there followed a series of meetings with the working group composed of community members and business owners. A second public meeting was held Wednesday, April 16, where the architect and SSA staff presented their views for consideration, leading to the Tuesday, April 22, meeting of the governing board. Responding to concerns from the public and members of the board of governors, the vote on the preferred options was deferred to the next board of governors meeting May 13 in New Bedford.

The options being considered thus far have all started with the construction of three new full-sized slips and the removal of the existing terminal building and the earth fill dock on which it stands. This requires the relocation of the terminal building inshore, into the area now used for staging, buses, trucks and pedestrians leading to complicated circulation patterns, major grading and terracing to comply with flood plain requirements, the loss of village parking and major disruption and turmoil for the village during construction.


An alternative that would be far less costly and disruptive would be to retain the terminal building at its present location near the slips. This could still allow two full-sized slips to the east of the dock and improvements to the third slip on the west. This could range from the “no build” option retaining the grandfathered status of that building to major repair,

modification or replacement. Flood plain and velocity zone regulations might lead to the elevation of the occupied areas if the scope of the work exceeded certain thresholds, but this would not differ from the inland sites and would be close to the embarkation level of the ships, not unlike the elevated walkways in some of the other proposals.

There has been much misinformation concerning the present terminal and the dock on which it is built. The dock is not, as has been claimed, built on wooden pilings that are failing. It is built on  solid fill retained originally by wooden sheathing, and replaced through the years by interlocking steel sheathing. I worked on the dock in 1966 when the first sections of steel sheathing were driven for the third slip on the site of Sam Cahoon’s fish market. The terminal building is a concrete block structure built on this solid material. It was built in the early 1950s as a freight shed, during the era when freight was transported primarily on trains of dollies, towed onto the boats by tow motors. It has been modified to include the ticket counters, rest rooms, administration offices and maintenance shops.

When the Island Home was introduced into service, it was larger than the other ships for which the slips were designed, so some of the fendering and dolphins were removed or altered. The result was that the impact shock against the dock caused damage to the concrete block terminal building. This will require engineering and repairs unless the building is abandoned, but this is relatively minor compared with the engineering and construction work for the new slips and shore facilities.

The advantages of this alternative, beyond lower cost, would include having the terminal close to the slips, causing less disruption of the present level staging areas, avoiding major grading and terracing to bring the new building to flood plain levels, retaining the existing village parking, and keeping the clear views over the single level terminal and staging areas. Before the SSA board chooses an option to pursue, this alternative must be considered and analyzed in terms of cost. Since there is no payback for this work in terms of increased revenues or ridership, the cost of the work will fall on the ratepayers, or on the towns if there is a deficit involved. 

Comments on this point of view should be communicated to the SSA board of governors, and especially to Cathy Norton, the Falmouth representative and Marc Hanover, the Vineyard representative, before the May 13 meeting in New Bedford.


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