The Transportation Management Committee’s May 13 report to the Falmouth Select Board concludes that the Town of Falmouth needs a memorandum of agreement with the Steamship Authority to set limits on the growth of freight that passes through Falmouth on its way to Martha’s Vineyard.
The Town of Barnstable has such an agreement with the Steamship Authority. Barnstable’s agreement 1) limits the number of freight trips to Nantucket out of Hyannis Harbor (six round-trip freight trips in summer); 2) sets the maximum size of SSA vessels from Hyannis; and 3) restricts the number of fully operating SSA slips in Hyannis.
How did Barnstable come to have an agreement like this with the Steamship Authority while Falmouth has nothing? In 1992 the SSA wanted to purchase property in Barnstable and expand its use of a second slip in Hyannis Harbor. This required the permission of the Barnstable Town Council.
Barnstable had leverage with the SSA and negotiated limits to the Steamship Authority’s growth in Barnstable. Barnstable’s 1992 agreement with the SSA about freight looks prescient today.
The freight volume carried to the Vineyard through Falmouth has grown from 70,000 trucks a year in 2003 to 141,000 trucks a year in 2019. This is an average growth rate of 4.5 percent per year, or a doubling every 16 years. The pressure for more freight capacity to the Vineyard is increasing, but road capacity on the Cape is not.
While Falmouth would appear to have no leverage today to establish boundaries for the SSA similar to those set by Barnstable in 1992, the Town of Falmouth is not powerless to act.
As the Transportation Management Committee’s recent report makes clear in its recommendations to the Falmouth Select Board, there are steps the board can still take now.
Those steps include demanding that the Steamship Authority conduct the hard work of applying for external funding so that an independent assessment of additional mainland ports can be conducted; demanding that the SSA include New Bedford representatives on the Steamship Authority’s Long Range Vineyard Transportation Task Force; and demanding mitigation measures from the SSA to the impacts from its freight moving through Falmouth neighborhoods, including elimination of its 5:30 AM freight schedule.
Falmouth residents deserve the leadership of its select board to support the Transportation Management Committee’s recommendations. The SSA must begin to be shown how to behave as a good neighbor to its largest port town and one that makes possible its very existence.
Nathaniel S. Trumbull