In a forceful letter, the Oak Bluffs selectmen this week called on the Steamship Authority to make immediate repairs to the summer ferry terminal on the North Bluff. Failure to open the pier this summer would amount to a “death-knell” for town businesses, the letter said.

“The town would take years to recover from such a catastrophe. It is difficult enough that pier repairs will extend our shut-down until the middle of June, but it will kill our town to close for the entire year,” wrote selectman and board chairman Brian Packish.

Dated April 27 and signed by Mr. Packish for the five-member board, the letter was briefly discussed at the SSA governors meeting Tuesday.

The letter also requested that the SSA run passenger ferry service to Oak Bluffs while repairs are under way at the wooden wharf.

“In light of the financial difficulties caused by the late opening of the pier, the board further requests that during the repair period until the June opening, the SSA institutes foot-traffic service utilizing the Sea Streak side of the pier with a similar-sized vessel to at least offer a modicum of service to help assist our business community in getting back on their feet following this disastrous spring,” Mr. Packish wrote.

An engineering report done late this winter found significant repairs are needed on the wharf, including the replacement of some 35 deteriorated pilings, in order to make it safe for vehicle traffic for the summer.

But with traffic crashing during the pandemic and finances looking bleak, two weeks ago general manager Robert Davis and Vineyard boat line governor James Malkin informed the selectmen that the terminal might not open at all this summer. That idea was quickly walked back after it sparked an uproar in the seaside town, known among other things for its emerald parks, decorative cottages and large African American summer community.

At a meeting last week SSA governors bickered over the repairs in light of the financial crisis, but ultimately voted to put the work out to bid. Proposals are due back by May 7. Cost estimates for the work are around $500,000; $750,000 has been budgeted for the repairs.

The terminal normally opens before Memorial Day, but the opening now will be pushed back to at least June 22, SSA leaders have said.

In the letter, Mr. Packish underscored the town’s exasperation at the situation, questioning why repairs were not conducted earlier in the year.

“As a major summer resort community this condition absolutely threatens our economic lifeline by jeopardizing travel into our port,” he wrote. “It is unfathomable how this much deterioration could be unknown until less than a month prior to the scheduled opening of the pier.”

At the board meeting Tuesday, Mr. Malkin said he had discussed the letter with Mr. Davis. Mr. Davis said he planned to respond to within 24 hours.

New Bedford governor Moira Tierney, a chief objector to the pier project last week, also backed down from her position, acknowledging the concerns from town leaders.

In the letter Mr. Packish highlighted the town’s partnership with the Steamship Authority, noting that the town had recently completed a major improvement project along the North Bluff, and that 100 per cent of the ferry embarkation fees that are returned to the town each year from ticket sales go to traffic control around the busy summer terminal. Further, he said running all ferries through Vineyard Haven would stretch the resources of that neighboring town.

“The board knows that you are aware of the importance of the ferry service, which is the lifeline for our Island town, and together we have been battling unprecedented challenges in coping with the realities of the Covid-19 virus,” Mr. Packish wrote. “We simply ask that you not abandon our historic resort community in its hour of greatest need as we struggle to reopen our economy following such an economic shock.”