The Steamship Authority has been planning to rebuild the terminal at Woods Hole for decades. And for nearly three years, they have been working towards this goal in earnest, drawing up plans and gathering input from Woods Hole residents.

But this week, they made their first formal presentation to some of the project’s major sponsors — their Vineyard customers.

Renovation of the Woods Hole terminal was the chief topic of conversation at a special meeting held on the Vineyard on Tuesday. The meeting was convened in response to concern from Island residents about Steamship Authority spending and rate increases.

Vineyard governor Marc Hanover said recent increases to excursion fairs did not seem substantial. — Mark Lovewell

Standing before a crowd of more than 85 people, general counsel Steven M. Sayers made a pitch for the costliest project the boat line has undertaken. According to preliminary estimates, the terminal could cost as much as $68 million.

“The project is going to greatly improve our terminal operations and create the facilities that we need for the long term,” Mr. Sayers said in a detailed presentation at the regional high school auditorium.

Construction would be a complex process that will include rebuilding the three boat slips and the terminal building. Offices currently located on the second floor of the terminal building would be relocated off-site, and vehicle staging and loading will move slightly on the lot.

According to conceptual estimates, the ferry slips will cost about $10 million each, and the building will cost about $12.5 million. The construction cost also includes a 20 per cent design contingency, as well as a 20 per cent cost of living adjustment and a 10 per cent construction contingency.

The Steamship Authority plans to fund the project with excess revenues collected each year in the replacement fund and through the issuance of bonds. Going forward, a $60 million terminal would raise the cost of service on the Vineyard route by one per cent on average each year for four years, he said.

That translates to higher fares for passengers and vehicles, though the impact on each customer will be determined by the board of governors on an annual basis.

“We have some cushion that they can play with in order to smooth out that fare increase over time,” Mr. Sayers said.

On Monday, Mr. Sayers made a lengthy case for replacing the terminal and adjoining ferry slips, which are deteriorating. The terminal building, which was built in the 1950s and renovated in 1970 and 1989, originally served as a freight station.

Mr. Sayers said kicking the project further down the road wouldn’t be fair to the next generation.

“You are going to be spending that money at some point,” he said. “You are going to have to replace these slips at some point. You are going to have to look at it and say what’s best for this terminal and we have to bite the bullet and move forward.”

For many attendees, the meeting was an introduction to the plans for the new terminal, and they questioned the terminal design and raised concerns about the cost and its impact on boat fares.

In January, the boat line, confronted with a budget shortfall, added $2 to the price of vehicle passage in the low-cost excursion program, which sets discounted fares for year-round Islanders. Rates for passengers also increased by 50 cents each way, and the cost of parking in the Falmouth lots also went up.

In an online petition that collected 2,901 signatures, Islanders pushed back against the rate changes, and challenged the boat line to restore the lower fares by finding savings in the fuel budget.

On Monday, Vineyarders asked if their excursion rates would be targeted again.

Edgartown resident Ricci Tucker said she hoped rates would go up for tourists and visitors instead of for locals.

“They are visiting, we live here, and it’s a struggle,” she said.

Vineyard representative Marc Hanover said the recent increases to the excursion program didn’t seem substantial to him.

“I apologize if it is, but it doesn’t seem to me, and we are spreading this as best we can across the board,” he said.

Mr. Sayers said standard automobile rates had gone up before, just not in the recent wave of fare hikes.

Audience members also asked about the economic implications of the Woods Hole terminal project.

Resident Laura Bryant had concerns that the SSA reservation office at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport would eventually be eliminated as a cost-saving measure. “I pray that you don’t dwindle their jobs,” she said.

Mr. Hanover said the office costs the SSA about $300,000 a year. “They are excellent employees, you are right, but that is a huge number,” he said.

He said it may make sense at some point to move that office to a ferry terminal building, but for now, they plan to continue providing the airport service.

Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel shared a related concern. He asked if the jobs currently located at the Woods Hole terminal could be moved to the Island.

“If we could get some economic benefit of this new terminal, that would help ameliorate some of the situation here on the Island,” he said.

Mr. Hanover said it was difficult to find qualified people on the Vineyard to work at the SSA. He suggested that any potential applicants reach out to Phillip J. Parent, director of human resources.

For the most part, general manager Wayne Lamson stayed out of the spotlight at Monday’s meeting, speaking only to clarify points made by others.

But when concerns were raised about poor communication between the SSA and the public, he spoke up.

“The communication problem is my fault,” he said. "That’s my responsibility; making sure that the public is informed.”

Meeting attendees also had criticisms for the terminal design. They asked the SSA to consider rotating the building to allow more convenient car loading and to expand the truck staging area.

The design for the terminal is still in a rough, conceptual state. Construction on the project will not begin for another year, and true final costs will not be determined until it goes out to bid.


An earlier version of this story stated that costs from the new terminal would raise rates on the Vineyard route by an average of one per cent each year for 40 years. The correct time frame is four years. The Gazette regrets the error.