Chappy residents want more details on ferry purchase
A standing-room-only crowd gathered Tuesday afternoon at the Chappaquiddick Community Center had mixed views about whether Edgartown should buy the Chappaquiddick ferry service. But residents expressed plenty of resentment over a perceived lack of attention from town officials.
The three-car ferry that crosses Edgartown Harbor provides the only link to the island of Chappaquiddick. Long staging lines, rising fares, and uncertainty over the ferry's future have been recent topics of discussion between residents and town officials.
A committee appointed by the Edgartown selectmen to evaluate the purchase proposal called the August meeting so that seasonal residents would have an opportunity while they are on the Island to provide opinions about the ferry options. Ferry owner Roy Hayes is asking $3 million for the ferry service he has run for 19 years under a lease agreement with the town.
Of the nearly 100 town residents who attended, all but two people at the meeting indicated they live on the small island, and one of those lives on it part time. Of the 30 people who spoke, some favored the town purchasing the ferry. Several suggested that the town buy it, but let an independent transportation authority run it. A few favored staying with a private owner.
What the residents agreed on most was that they don't have enough information about the proposal to make a decision.
The committee offered no additional information Tuesday.
After he stopped the first speaker who asked a question, committee chairman Woody Filley explained the meeting was only intended only to get residents' opinions, not to answer questions. His response elicited groans from the audience, but the speaker, Steve Lawrence, received applause for his statement.
"A lot of information has not been made public for anyone to make an intelligent decision, whether we want to do this or not," Mr. Lawrence said. Several others expressed similar concerns.
Bradford Woodger agreed with Mr. Lawrence, saying, the residents "can't wrap their heads about what this is." He said it would be helpful if the mission and options were made clearer. "Edgartown should be forthcoming how it will operate it," he said. "We don't have any information."
Others said the terms of Mr. Hayes's current lease and other financial records should be fully disclosed.
"We need to know what we're getting for $3 million," Ed Trider said. "Is it going to be two broken-down ferry boats and that's all?"
Mr. Filley said the committee's meetings are open to the public and meeting minutes are available to all. Arrangements were made at the end of the meeting to e-mail the minutes to anyone who wants them through Terry Forde, president of the Chappaquiddick Island Association. Tuesday's meeting was the first scheduled to solicit public comment. Another will be scheduled in September at Edgartown Town Hall.
David Tyler, a lawyer by profession, had another opinion about the private operation. He praised Mr. Hayes for doing a "superb job" of running the ferry independently. He also drew applause.
"I have grave concerns about the town becoming the operator of the ferry," Mr. Tyler said because he fears political influence. "Chappaquiddick really needs this lifeline to be steady. I urge the town not purchase it," he said.
Robert Colman expressed similar reservations. "I don't see the motivation from the town," he said. "Whatever assurances the town gave, I would not believe them."
Dorothy Dropick said that many people feel Mr. Hayes has done a good job, but she added, "We don't want anyone profiteering from the ferry." She and several others suggested a review of the rate structure.
Saying that the ferry channel is like any public road, several speakers said passage should be free for Chappaquiddick and all Edgartown residents, with charges for other Island town residents and visitors. "It's troublesome that there is a private toll booth," Victor Colantonio said.
Terry Dangel suggested setting up a nonprofit authority that would be removed from politics and from town government. He said the town could sell bonds to alleviate some of the ferry costs and maintenance. The ferry should not be run "at the whim of a private owner or town government that may not have our interest at heart," he said.
Roger Becker agreed that the town has not recognized the concerns of Chappaquiddick residents. "The selectmen have been remiss" in not recognizing the "consternation from residents about being ripped off by the private operator," he said. "I'm very concerned about the political situation. There's a lack of interest in what goes on over here except when it digs into their pocketbook."
Diane Riley, a seasonal resident, also said her biggest worry is whether the people in Edgartown are going to support the ferry purchase because they fear their taxes may go up.
Frank Partel of Chappaquiddick said people on the other side of ferry should have an economic interest in it. "If the ferry is poorly run, ridership declines, and rates will spiral up," he said, and Chappaquiddick as a tourist destination will decline.
Paul James, who said he had trouble getting the town to fill potholes, wanted to know the amount of tax money Chappaquiddick's 500 homes contribute to the town. "Them not caring about us is pretty rampant," he said.
Several speakers said the committee and town should consider making improvements to the ferry while they are considering the purchase option.
"We should ask how we're going to make it better," Rick Biros said, suggesting the committee look at service, rates, and hours of operation. "Consider it not just monetary, but an opportunity to improve it," he told the committee.
Mike Kidder suggested twice that the town should get a third ferry immediately in light of the recent breakdown of one of the ferries. Another person recommended imposing a numbering system on the tickets immediately to obtain a measure of ferry traffic.
Barbara Lott agreed with some who said, "Chappaquiddick is a magical place," but she said her family came knowing the ferry service would be reliable and reasonable. "We do not have to be subjected to a mismanaged ferry," she said. "An authority should regulate it, either private or public."
Committee chairman Filley concluded the 50-minute meeting saying, "This is not the end of the discussion," noting the additional planned public meetings.
The selectmen have asked the committee to come up with a recommendation in November, and if that is "a positive one," he said, it would go to a referendum at the April town meeting.
After the meeting, Mr. Filley said the residents had some insightful comments about issues that would be helpful for the committee.