Not to minimize the importance of ferrying tourists to and from our shores, but it suddenly seems necessary to remind the leadership of the Steamship Authority that the boat line was created and exists for Islanders, who are on the hook if it fails to meet its financial obligations.

The sixty-million-dollar Woods Hole terminal reconstruction project now in the spotlight is the latest example of an organization that seems to have lost sight of its charter and is unable to see the ocean for the waves.

In a rare show of unanimity across the water, at public meetings last week residents in Woods Hole and on Martha’s Vineyard spoke out against the planned chalet-like ticket office more appropriate to an alpine valley than perched on the edge of the rough tidal waters of Woods Hole.

Critics say the two-story glass and stone ticket office is poorly conceived, overly grand, mismatched with its surroundings and regressive when it comes to energy efficiency. Two state representatives — Cape and Island Rep. Dylan Fernandes and Plymouth Sen. Viriato (Vinny) deMacedo — have called on the SSA to redesign the building.

And in a special edition of its conservation almanac newsletter that went out just before the monthly board meeting held on the Vineyard this week, the Vineyard Conservation Society warns that car-carrying capacity could expand under the plan to convert the third slip in Woods Hole from limited use to fully operational.

VCS also rightly points out the Steamship Authority’s mandate does not include promoting tourism, and yet its budget for advertising — $1.3 million this year — is growing.

Against this backdrop, it was especially stunning then when the board met on Tuesday at the regional high school in Oak Bluffs and governors offered only scant acknowledgment of the public criticism. Management delivered a perfunctory progress report on the construction work underway in Woods Hole, but little else was said until the public comment period that came at the end of the meeting.

And when people stood to criticize the Woods Hole terminal plan and air concerns about bringing more cars to the Island during the traffic-choked summer season, even more stunningly, they were rebuffed by the Vineyard governor Marc Hanover, who suggested that limiting traffic to the Vineyard could amount to some form of discrimination.

By the boat line’s own numbers, the volume of vehicles transported by Steamship Authority ferries has ticked up steadily over the past decade. SSA management has repeatedly said its objective is not to increase traffic to the Island, but a cynic might reasonably question that assurance.

More likely, senior SSA managers — well-intentioned, no doubt, but feeling pressure to get things done — are simply focused on checking boxes instead of pausing to consider the broader implications of their actions. With a passive board of governors that has apparently forgotten its role as a critical check on management, the boat line that was chartered to be the Island’s lifeline now appears to be drifting precariously from its central mission: to provide dependable year-round ferry service to the residents of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission has begun its own examination of the SSA in the context of regional planning initiative that will study carrying capacity and how it relates to growing peak summer traffic problems on the Island.

And an independent evaluation of operations by a group of Seattle marine consultants that began in July and is due to be complete next month will hopefully shed more light on how the authority is being run and offer constructive solutions.

Ultimately, it is up to Islanders to make clear what they need and expect from the boat line. Let’s start with a terminal that reflects the aesthetics, values and needs of people who actually live here.