A 10-knot speed limit aimed at protecting right whales in Nantucket Sound and Vineyard Sound from November through May would severely hamper ferry service between Cape Cod and the islands, officials from the Steamship Authority and the Hy-Line said this week.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is taking public comment on the expansion of what it calls Speed Management Areas, where speed restrictions are intended to keep boats from hitting migrating whales.

The 10-knot limit would apply to vessels 35 feet and longer, according to the proposed amendments. Restrictions were already put in place last summer for boats measuring over 65 feet. However, the new proposal would also expand the area to include Nantucket Sound and Vineyard Sound, affecting ferries for the first time.

“This would set back the islands, particularly Nantucket, 50-plus years,” Hy-Line president Murray Scudder said during Tuesday morning’s monthly meeting of the SSA board of governors.

“As currently proposed, this regulation would eliminate high-speed ferry service and the business plan for it,” Mr. Scudder said.

The North Atlantic right whale is a critically endangered species, with its population estimated at fewer than 350. Its decline has been attributed to a number of factors, including boat strikes and entanglement in fishing gear.

But Steamship Authority general manager Bob Davis said the whales are not known to frequent the two sounds. Applying to vessels of 35 feet and longer, the amendments would ban high-speed ferry service to the Vineyard and Nantucket for seven months of the year, he said.

“In the 22 years since we started running a high-speed service, combined for both routes we’ve operated nearly 500,000 trips [and] during that time, none of our crew have ever documented seeing right whales,” Mr. Davis said.

“We feel that area should be excluded, much like Long Island Sound is excluded and Buzzards Bay is excluded,” Mr. Davis told the board.

“This is not to minimize the plight of the right whales,” Mr Davis said. “Our experience has been that it isn’t an issue.”

Along with the threat to high-speed passenger service, Mr. Davis said, he’s concerned about the expanded speed restriction’s impact on the traditional ferry service carrying vehicles and freight to the islands.

“At 10 knots [11.5 miles per hour], we would not be able to make schedule to Nantucket,” he said.

“Right now we’re able to operate three round trips a day with those vessels in an 18-hour operating day,” Mr. Davis said.

Slowing down the ferries, he said, would mean either a longer operating day — raising daily costs by a third to pay for the additional crew members needed — or a shorter schedule of two boats instead of three to carry Nantucket’s necessities of life and commerce.

“It would have a devastating impact on Nantucket’s economy,” Mr. Davis said of the proposal.

“We’re still looking at the Vineyard,” he added.

Board members authorized Mr. Davis to write NOAA a letter requesting that Nantucket Sound and Vineyard Sound be excluded from the expanded SMA speed restrictions.

“If they’re excluding Long Island Sound and excluding Buzzards Bay, I think it’s relatively safe to ask them additionally to exclude Nantucket and the Vineyard,” Martha’s Vineyard governor James Malkin said.

NOAA’s public comment period has been extended through Oct. 31, SSA general counsel Terrence Kenneally told the board.

“It seems to be an overreach and somewhat arbitrary in the way it’s being imposed,” Mr. Kenneally said of the proposed amendments.

Among other business Tuesday, Mr. Davis told the board that work is set to resume on the shoreside phase of the SSA’s Woods Hole terminal reconstruction, which is set to conclude in May.

Contractor Lawrence Lynch is mobilizing this week to begin raising the entrance at the traffic booth, Mr. Davis said, after which work will shift to the southern side of the terminal property in front of slip one.

Prospects look bright for sustainable energy at the rebuilt terminal, Mr. Davis told the board.

“We had a test geothermal well drilled into the employee parking lot in Woods Hole to be able to confirm the expectations of being able to have the geothermal, along with the photovoltaic cells, to make this a net zero energy project,” he said.

“My understanding is that initial readings are good,” Mr. Davis added.

The M/V Katama is also back from Thames Shipyard in Connecticut, where the freight boat underwent a nearly $1.38 million overhaul in dry dock. Originally estimated at $1.1 million, the work soared over budget after Thames employees discovered failing structural steel inside the vessel, encased in concrete ballast that had to be chipped apart and removed before the steel could be replaced and new concrete poured in around it.

“That is now dry and she is complete,” SSA director of marine operations Mark Amundsen said.

Also Tuesday, the board of governors approved operating schedules for 2023, which include the perennially-discussed 5:30 a.m. summer freight boat from Woods Hole — but not a requested late-night run to the mainland for workers in the Island’s hospitality industry.

In petitions, correspondence and public hearings over the past several years, a group of Falmouth residents have consistently fought the 5:30 a.m. departure, calling it a risk to health and safety due to Woods Hole-bound truck traffic early in the morning.

But with the exception of the governor representing Falmouth, the SSA board has just as consistently held firm on the early freight.

“The select boards of Martha’s Vineyard towns and our hospital and the police chiefs have told me, and have told the Steamship Authority, that the summer 5:30 a.m. boat is important to the Vineyard. Should their position change, I’m happy to change my position, but I have to respond to my constituents,” Mr. Malkin said.

“Vineyard Haven has a 5:30 a.m. boat year-round,” he added.

“We’re not looking to increase capacity on these routes; we haven’t for the past five years. This is part of what we need for an economy that is growing here just as its growing on the Cape,” Mr. Malkin said.

Falmouth governor Peter Jeffrey voted against the 2023 schedules, which passed 3-1 with New Bedford governor Maura Tierney absent.

The boat line board of governors also reviewed the $133 million draft operating budget, which includes across-the-board price increases ranging from $.50 per passenger ticket and $2 per round-trip excursion fare to $5 each way for standard automobile fares on peak weekends and 8 per cent for freight.

The board is expected to vote on the new budget and fare hikes at its Nov. 15 meeting. A public information session on Zoom was scheduled for Sept. 30 at 9 a.m.

Before entering an executive session to discuss matters involving unionized employees of the boat line, the SSA governors and Mr. Davis reviewed the general manager’s goals for the year ending June 30, 2023. Finishing the Woods Hole terminal project tops the list, with the ticket and utility buildings targeted for completion by March 3.

Mr. Davis is also charged with continuing to study the potential of freight service from an off-Cape port, despite the lack of bids so far.

The board wants to see plans for a solar array at the SSA’s Palmer avenue lot, and for the boat line’s new website and mobile app to launch with cost overruns of no more than 10 per cent — a stipulation also applied to the Woods Hole project and upcoming terminal work at other SSA ports.

Other goals for Mr. Davis include completing the evaluation of the SSA’s vessel replacement program, beginning the boat line’s first-ever strategic planning process with a qualified consultant, obtaining more federal grants, improving community relations and hiring a chief operating officer and a grants administrator.