As a native of Woods Hole, I have always been proud of the longstanding institutions such as the MBL, WHOI, NOAA, the National Fisheries, and the Steamship Authority that are the signature beacons of our historic town. All of them have private and public goals, have evolved with time, and are guests of our towns and stewards of our ocean waters. Or at least that is what I would like to think.
My impression from the public hearing of the Steamship Authority on Monday, May 3, with the agenda of “do we allow a 5:30 AM freight boat from May to October 2022,” was a painful experience. Given that the SSA derives a large portion of its revenue from freight (49 percent came from freight and only 24 percent from automobiles and another 24 percent from passengers during the first quarter of this year), the SSA has a bias to “follow the money” and to ignore the voices from its mainland port communities.
Concerned neighbors from the region at the hearing provided thoughtful points of what it’s like to experience the jaw-grinding noise of freight trucks idling and speeding from Bourne to Woods Hole each morning before 5 AM. To awaken residents at predawn hours by driving more trucks to an early ferry through a village that is being handled as an industrial port is simply absurd. To build a $100-million-plus new ferry terminal that swamps the small historic village is silly. Some will recall that Woods Hole blocked a McDonald’s franchise years ago, after resident outcry.
For the SSA to have frequent change orders and cost overruns from troublesome piling placements shows an utter lack of planning in a delicate ocean ecosystem and illustrates another head-shaking measure, particularly given the world-renowned oceanographers right next door. Yet the SSA appears to ignore these experiences and charge on with more freight and industrial build-out of the small Woods Hole village.
One-hundred and twenty-four citizens attended the SSA hearing, which was scheduled because of a public filing signed by 103 local residents. Thirty days have passed since Woods Hole residents submitted a separate list of 18 questions about the terminal, all of which have gone unanswered by the SSA. Our communities care about our oceans, our traffic, our boats, our supplies, our businesses, and the neighborhoods in which we live. It appears the SSA does not.
At the hearing many residents delivered thoughtful comments and constructive suggestions, noting that the “funnel into Woods Hole is not sustainable.” They begged for the Falmouth Select Board and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to take an active role in preserving the very communities that are being overrun by heavy freight trucks. The deep-water commercial Port of New Bedford is an excellent option that should be considered.
Modernization of the 60-year-old Enabling Act to ensure a regional solution to burgeoning transit needs is also long overdue.
There is obvious respect from the residents on Martha’s Vineyard and the mainland to hear each other, and to work through the “lifeline” needs. But what was abundantly clear from the public hearing is that without emergency hearings requested by heroic residents, who provide oversight and monitoring of SSA practices, the SSA will ransack the lifestyle and health of our local citizens, and destroy rather than serve our coastal town and island neighbor.