Boat Line Board Goes Forward with Oak Bluffs Wharf Project

By JAMES KINSELLA

Revised plans for the reconstruction of the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority terminal have won the backing of Vineyard SSA governor Marc Hanover.

"I think it looks great," said Mr. Hanover, a resident of Oak Bluffs as well as chairman of the boat line board, of the $10 million proposal to rebuild the wharf near the North Bluff section of downtown. At the monthly boat line meeting in Woods Hole yesterday, Mr. Hanover said the new terminal will be a welcome enhancement.

SSA governors voted 4-0 to authorize management to pursue the new plan, a less expensive approach than the $12 million to $13 million original proposal. Falmouth governor Robert Marshall did not attend the meeting. The boat line still needs to get approval from Oak Bluffs officials and arrange to lease the old town hall for new terminal space.

The latest version of the plan includes enlarged queuing areas for foot passengers and bicyclists, separated queuing areas for vehicles along Seaview avenue north and south of Oak Bluffs avenue, plantings to better secure the sea wall, and a longer boat loading ramp to better accommodate large trucks.

In other action yesterday, boat line governors scheduled public hearings on a proposal by Hy-Line, a private Hyannis-based company, to introduce year-round fast ferry service between Hyannis and Oak Bluffs. The hearings are set for March 7 at the Oak Bluffs School and again on March 8 at the SSA terminal in Hyannis. Both will begin at 5:30 p.m.

SSA governors also voted 4-0 to spend $1.5 million to put new engines in the fast ferry Flying Cloud at the end of its 2005 season. In the next breath they voted without dissent to authorize management to seek proposals for a vessel to replace the Flying Cloud before the 2007 season.

A large chunk of the meeting was taken up with the presentation and discussion of the Oak Bluffs terminal reconstruction project.

The terminal currently lacks adequate vehicle staging areas, forces some passengers to be dropped off or picked up in the middle of Seaview avenue, and moves passengers to and from the boats along a wooden walkway in disrepair and out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

But earlier versions of the plan sparked concerns from the town conservation and parks commissions. A number of town residents and officials also faulted the SSA for failing to get more public comment before drawing up a plan.

At the meeting yesterday, Steve Cecil of the Cecil Group presented the revised proposal. The new plan is $2 million to $3 million less costly than the original, largely because the boat line would lease terminal office space from the town rather than build a new terminal office. Further description of the plan was provided in a staff summary written by Carl R. Walker, director of engineering for the boat line.

Key elements include:

* Creation of better-organized queuing areas on land north and south of the existing ticket office, running approximately from Pasque avenue south to Lake avenue. The areas would be separated from the flow of traffic on Seaview avenue by traffic islands. The area south of the current terminal office would be used for passenger pick-up and drop-off. The area north of the terminal would be used as a new staging area.

* Demolition of the existing terminal office and of the old town comfort station on the east side of Seaview avenue.

* A new concrete wall to be built along the slope between Seaview avenue and the beach. Native plantings would be placed along the slope.

* Construction of a 2,000-square-foot kiosk near the existing terminal office site for an attendant and for machines to dispense tickets. (The main ticket office would be across the street.)

* Construction of a new pedestrian walkway along the south side of the existing pier. The walkway will be 14 feet wide and built using 12-inch diameter concrete-filled steel pilings. A new passenger loading platform and ADA-compliant access ramp will be built at the east end of the walkway.

* Expansion of available space on the existing pier. Building the new pedestrian walkway will create enough room on the pier for a bicycle lane, two vehicle staging lanes, and an exit lane.

* Replacement of the existing 30-foot transfer bridge - the ramp used by vehicles to get onto and off the ferries - with a 50-foot transfer bridge. The new bridge will reduce the steepness of the angle during high and low tides, which will allow longer trucks to use the pier.

* Replacement of the deteriorating dolphins at the seaward entrance to the pier.

The project, Mr. Walker said, can be pursued in two or three phases as funding becomes available.

Barnstable governor Robert O'Brien noted that the project design is based on the availability of the old town hall, now home to the Oak Bluffs police department. Mr. Cecil replied that limited space exists on the east side of Seaview avenue for a terminal building, but that the building would have to be two stories tall.

New Bedford governor David Oliveira wondered if the redesign would allow for the placement of picnic tables along the seaward slope where people could watch the boat come in. Mr. Hanover said it is a possibility.

About $7 million of the project cost is for construction and reconstruction at the pier, with $3 million for site work on the land side of the terminal.

SSA governors had no comment on another Oak Bluffs initiative: the proposal by Hy-Line to operate a year-round fast ferry between Hyannis and the Cottage City. The board likely will vote on the plan next month, following public hearings and a meeting between Hy-Line and SSA management.

Murray Scudder, one of Hy-Line's owners, gave a presentation to make a case for the proposed service.

Hy-Line now operates a conventional ferry seasonally on the route. (There is no SSA service, seasonal or year-round, between the two towns.) Mr. Scudder said passenger traffic has been falling in recent years, and the fast ferry is seen as a way to reverse the trend.

Mr. Scudder said people want to travel more quickly than in the past. He also said the service is expected to draw people from the mid and lower Cape who now find it too cumbersome to travel to the Vineyard, and give the Vineyard better access to the educational, medical and work opportunities offered by Hyannis, the hub of the Cape.

"As part of the public-private partnership created by the legislature, we believe that a convenient and reliable year-round transportation option is in the public interest and, as such, we respectfully ask the authority's approval of this request," Mr. Scudder wrote in his proposal.

After the meeting, Mr. Scudder said discussions about the proposal with people from Oak Bluffs and Hyannis have been very positive.

Also yesterday SSA governors gave management the green light to replace the troubled engines on the Flying Cloud, and to solicit proposals for vessel replacement before the 2007 season.

The Paxman engines will be replaced with Detroit diesel engines, which are expected to improve reliability and also make the vessel salable. Warranty on the Paxman engines is now costing $30,000 a month.

As for replacing the Flying Cloud, SSA general manager Wayne Lamson said the boat line will look for a vessel that is suitable for the Hyannis-Nantucket run.