Poor Policy With Steamship Authority

Damien Kuffler •

To the editor: Supported by the rubber stamp of its board of governors, the Steamship Authority has made countless poor decisions, showing a complete lack of good judgment and concern for the well-being of some of its constituents and the environment while bending to the will of others.

Without adequate investigation and with the support of its board of governors, the SSA fast-track purchased three 15-year-old offshore supply vessels (OSVs) as replacement freight vessels. The SSA was wrong at almost every step of the process.

First, SSA refitting cost estimates were so far off that they bordered on malfeasance. They jumped from $4 million to $13.6 million per vessel, a $30 million cost miscalculation.

Second, while currently, SSA’s boats account for 15 percent of today’s Vineyard’s carbon expenditure, the fossil-fuel-guzzling OSVs, which may operate for another two to three decades, will significantly increase that percentage and create a profound regional negative environmental impact. This error may prevent the Vineyard from reaching its publicly announced 100 percent renewable energy goals by 2040.

Third, outfitting the OSVs with hybrid engines will be so phenomenally expensive that the cost will likely prevent retrofitting because the SSA is already financially overextended. It has currently budgeted $32 million for the new Woods Hole ticketing building, $65 million for waterside reconstruction, $16 million for the Falmouth administrative building, and $4 million for a temporary ticket office, which was adequate for its final ticketing building, but which will soon be demolished.

Fourth, why has the SSA refused to more actively seek federal funding for more climate-friendly vessels in once-in-a-lifetime grant opportunities in Washington? Instead, the SSA and its board moved in the opposite direction.

Fifth, the SSA kept quiet about the new OSVs having a 25 percent larger vehicle capacity than the Sankaty and Katama. Vineyard residents already complain about the terrible Five Corners traffic tie-ups. Can anyone imagine the additional traffic problems there and in Woods Hole, with a 25 percent increase in trucks and vehicles with each OSV arrival and departure?

For years, Falmouth residents pushed to reduce, and not increase, traffic to Martha’s Vineyard, but predominant Vineyard voices claimed they were threatening the Vineyard’s lifeline and dismissed every Falmouth concern as petty. By not listening to reason, Dukes County commissioners and other Vineyard leaders may finally have gotten the SSA lifeline they wanted: it brings ever more trucks and vehicles. The lifeline will be a noose strangling the Vineyard in more serious traffic problems, higher ticket costs, and long-term negative environmental impacts.

It is time to bring people from both sides of the water together to discuss how to solve our common problem. Falmouth residents alone cannot bring island residents to the table if they are not interested or unwilling to see what is happening to them.

The SSA’s OSV purchases encapsulate much of the SSA’s management: a complete lack of forward-looking and creative thinking. It also shows the serious oversight shortcomings of its board members, whom the SSA leads by the nose. It is time for island leaders to take responsibility and look for professional and external guidance on how to exercise their overwhelming 70 percent of the SSA board vote. Rubber stamping SSA recommendations has proven to be nothing but poor policy.

Damien Kuffler
Woods Hole

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