The Steamship Authority this week postponed making a decision on the proposed Woods Hole terminal redesign because of additional questions from village residents.
For the past year, the boat line has been working on plans to demolish the existing Woods Hole terminal, which was built in the late 1950s, and rebuild the terminal and the surrounding area. SSA general counsel Steven M. Sayers said Tuesday that project goals include needed reconstruction of boat slips, improving pedestrian safety, ferry accessibility and the experience for travelers and the village, and responding to flood zone requirements. He said a new terminal would be sized to accommodate existing traffic, and not sized for growth.
Bertaux + Iwerks Architects created several design options for the new terminal, and the boat line has been meeting with a Woods Hole community group to discuss concerns in the village.
At the monthly board meeting Tuesday in Woods Hole, Mr. Sayers said SSA management decided on a preferred option for the terminal out of three main options, with the proposal modified to address community desires. The terminal building would be parallel to the water but set back behind car staging, and the size of the building would be similar to the terminal in Vineyard Haven. The terminal building would be two stories to make the building’s footprint smaller and allow for more water views from the street, Mr. Sayers said. The terminal building and shuttle bus staging area will be 13 feet above sea level, reduced from original plans that called for them to be 17 feet above sea level. The truck staging area has been redesigned to eliminate the need for trucks to back up until they board the ferry — Mr. Sayers said there were complaints about the beeping noise from trucks backing up.
The boat slips would also be reconfigured slightly. The Steamship Authority is “affirmatively planning to use the three slips the same way we use them today,” Mr. Sayers said. Slips one and two would be the main operational slips, with the third berth used for overnight vessel storage and when it is the safest slip to use because of weather conditions.
The small site has to meet requirements including having a covered area for passengers as they wait, allowing cars to get off the boat and having a security perimeter, Mr. Sayers said. To work with the small space, administrative offices, maintenance shops and related employee parking will be moved off-site.
During discussion of preliminary plans, community members said they were concerned about the possibility that the new terminal would block the view of the ocean, especially from the top of Water street, that the size and scope of the terminal building was too big, and that the terminal would change the entrance to the village and Woods Hole would lose its connection with visitors.
The SSA subsequently rejected a plan for a large two-level design because of community opposition, and two covered pedestrian bridges leading to the ferries, a safety feature that was part of an earlier plan, were eliminated,
“We feel this is a marked improvement on the existing terminal,” Mr. Sayers said of the redrawn plan, adding that the option struck the best balance between SSA needs and community concerns.
Governors Catherine Norton from Falmouth and Marc Hanover from the Vineyard said they were concerned about the long walk from the bus terminal area to the boat, noting the distance would be especially difficult to navigate for people who are elderly or disabled.
“That’s a huge concern for me,” Mr. Hanover said. “It’s much too far away from the boats.”
A few dozen people attended the meeting Monday, including several Woods Hole residents.
Woods Hole Community Association co-president Catherine Bumpus said the community has appreciated the give and take with the boat line, and said the suggested design isn’t perfect for anybody. “Your job is to move people and you want to do it well,” she said. We want it to fit with our community as you do that.” She continued:
“The fact that there’s a third operational slip makes the Woods Hole and Falmouth community very anxious. While you’re not looking at an increase in volume right now we have serious concerns about an increase in volume.
“Woods Hole as a village doesn’t get as much benefit as Vineyard Haven or Oak Bluffs does from having their terminal. Everybody passes through . . . it’s a little bit out to the side for us as a community. I would like a better connection, I would like them to be more understanding of what the community is like.”
She concluded: “Thank you for listening, thank you for the changes that you’ve done. We’re not going to fight hard on this, I don’t think.”
Woods Hole resident and abutter Pam Stark read a list of eight questions about the terminal renovation, including whether the Steamship Authority has asked for an outside legal opinion about an exemption from flood plain rules and whether there is a problem with the existing terminal building.
She said she’s had few issues with the SSA, especially during general manager Wayne Lamson’s tenure. “Thank you for doing due diligence as a governing board on a project whose impact will be far reaching, of a duration during construction of a minimum of three years, and whose price tag is daunting,” she said.
Mr. Sayers said that any work done on the existing building that costs more than 50 per cent of the value of the building will be required to bring the terminal up to flood plain code. He said the state building inspector said the Steamship Authority likely would not get a variance, and it would be considered irresponsible of the SSA to keep the building at that location at the existing elevation.
Mr. Lamson called for the vote to be postponed so management could respond to Ms. Stark’s questions. Tuesday’s meeting was supposed to be in New Bedford but was moved to Woods Hole so village residents could attend. The May meeting is set to be held in New Bedford.