As the Steamship Authority begins to embark on a major reconstruction plan for its Woods Hole terminal, residents of the village are already raising concerns about aesthetics and increased traffic.
Although still in the earliest stages of planning with no timetable and no price tag attached, the renovation plans have brought back long-simmering issues, including the prospect of opening up a boat line route between New Bedford and the Vineyard for shipping freight.
“The terminal building needs a major rehab,” SSA general manager Wayne Lamson told the Gazette this week. The terminal was built in the late 1950s and renovated in 1989.
Bertaux+Iwerks Architects and the marine engineering firm Moffatt & Nichol conducted a feasibility study of options for the area. Three options are on the table for the terminal building; all would include demolishing the existing terminal and moving administrative offices to another location.
All the options would also include moving and realigning three ferry slips, Mr. Lamson said. The existing boat slips are at their life expectancy.
There are three boat slips now, but one is used only in emergencies and not for regular ferry service. The slips would be moved 20 to 30 feet south, the bulkhead lengthened about 70 feet into the harbor, and vehicle transfer bridges extended from 30 feet to 50 feet.
All three slips wouldn’t be used simultaneously, Mr. Lamson said, but they would add convenience for loading and unloading boats and allowing captains to pick different slips depending on the winds and tides. The slips would be rebuilt “in a way that gives us the best shot at continuing to provide services in most weather conditions,” Mr. Lamson said.
Because of flood plain regulations, he said, any major renovation would require raising the floor level of the terminal by about seven feet or filing for an exemption. With some storms bringing water over the present dock, he said, in the longer term it would be better to rebuild the terminal further away from the water and raised out of the flood plain.
The first of three options would keep the vehicle staging, bus loading and unloading and passenger traffic where it is now. A new two-story terminal building would be built parallel to Railroad avenue and elevated per flood zone requirements.
The second option would be a split-level terminal, with vehicle staging on a lower level closer to the water and a two-story terminal building and ground transportation on a second level that is raised about 10 feet. This would separate pedestrian activity from vehicles. Walk-on passengers would board the ferry through overhead covered bridges on the upper level.
A third option would consist of two levels, with the second story raised 25 feet. There would be a structured deck for buses and access to the ferries through a second-story bridge. The lower level would be similar to the existing layout, with vehicle staging going east to west under the upper deck. Mr. Lamson said this option would provide Woods Hole with needed additional parking.
He said the next step is for architects to come up with cost estimates, and that information might guide the decision.
The boat line board of governors will meet and discuss a preferred alternative with the architects, Mr. Lamson said, and will continue to meet with the community to “try to figure out what’s going to be best for all the stakeholders.”
Mr. Lamson has said the slip and terminal reconstruction would take place over several years. The terminal reconstruction comes as the boat line is looking at another major capital project: a new freight boat that would cost between $30 million and $52 million.
Mr. Lamson said that over the 10 years he has been general manager, board meetings have been sparsely attended. “Now we’re prepared to make a significant investment into the Woods Hole terminal these other issues are coming up as to whether or not the community feels it should be built,” he said.
The discussion will go forward without former Falmouth governor Robert S. Marshall, who resigned from the board after a Nov. 14 community meeting about the terminal. He told the Gazette that he felt it was time for to move on, and it was timely to do so after the contentious meeting.
Mr. Lamson said that aside from concern from Woods Hole residents about the plans, the meeting led to a renewed discussion about a New Bedford freight route. “This is where the Vineyard is going to have to watch how this develops,” he said.
He said overall traffic on the boat line is relatively flat, and traffic congestion in Woods Hole is limited to short segments of time.
But in letters to the SSA, members of the Woods Hole community voiced concern about the impact on traffic that could come from having three working boat slips, and how the new terminal would fit in with the small seaside village. Several said the single-story terminal was the most palatable option.
“My feeling from the community is they want to see something completely different,” said Catherine Bumpus, co-president of the Woods Hole Community Association. She said smaller buildings like the terminals in Vineyard Haven and Hyannis “would have less of a structural impact right on the waterfront.”
Ms. Bumpus said there are several separate concerns about the designs, and some bigger than the redesign. “There is a general concern about the level of operation at the Steamship,” she said, including traffic volume, noise, light pollution and boat and truck emissions.
With the design calling for a third operational slip, there is fear that those things will increase.
Another concern is about the plans for the new building, especially the options that call for more than one level. “That’s a big visual impact on the village and that’s a big change,” she said. “It really doesn’t seem like it fits the Cape, particularly.”
“Coming from Woods Hole, you don’t get a big visual impact from the Steamship Authority [terminal] . . . you look out past it to the water. You can see over to Nashawena.”
In general, she said: “It raises a lot of anxiety.
“On this side the community would like to see at least some thought put into what to do as volume increases. It’s not necessarily just a Steamship issue, maybe a Cape Cod Commission issue also.”
She concluded: “I think having frank conversations about this only helps. [The Steamship Authority] is a smaller part of our lives in Woods Hole than it is on the Vineyard, but it is a part of Woods Hole. We need to all have our eyes open and talk about the issue.”