A committee appointed by the Edgartown selectmen to consider the future of the Chappaquiddick ferry favors a private ownership model in its present form or outright town ownership, but some variations might be acceptable.
The Purchase the Chappy Ferry Committee will present its recommendations to Edgartown selectmen Monday. Chairman Woody Filley said the committee was asked to provide its final recommendations to the selectmen. The committee met last week to hash out its internal differences.
At their Wednesday meeting, the committee reviewed several options in an effort to reach a general consensus. "We basically went through a number of items that we voted on as a group," Mr. Filley said. "The focus was to bring to them (selectmen) the items that we all agree on, or as many people as possible agree on."
While there was some agreement, the fault lines that divided the committee over the course of its work were also made evident by the presentation of a minority report, "The VTA option," signed by five committee members. The report (available here), prepared outside the committee framework, recommends the Island's public bus agency as the best option to operate the ferry service.
In telephone conversation Monday night, Mr. Filley, a Chappy resident, said the options and recommendations the committee agreed on were not available in final written form, but he summarized the essential content of the recommendations that would be presented to the selectmen.
He said the committee agreed not to recommend what he described as the current model, with a private owner and no changes in the current license agreement between the town and the ferry operator.
The committee also generally agrees that the town should not purchase the ferry and run it as a municipal entity. But Mr. Filley qualified that recommendation. He said there could be other arrangements, under which the town might buy the ferry and allow another entity to operate it.
Mr. Filley said the committee had not had enough time to fully digest the VTA option report prior to last week's meeting. Asked if it remained an option that has some potential for the town to examine, he was noncommittal. He said there are still many options that require a more thorough examination.
Many of the committee's recommendations focus on performance, service, and oversight by town officials rather than ownership models.
The committee recommends that the selectmen appoint an advisory committee that would act as a conduit between ferry users and the selectmen.
One area the entire committee agrees on was the need to ensure that rates and discounts are fairly applied and set. Selectmen will be asked to review all potential rate categories and create criteria and a procedure for setting and reviewing all fares, Mr. Filley said.
When a powerful spring storm created a cut in the beach that linked Chappy to Katama, the reliability and schedule of the three-vehicle ferry that crosses Edgartown Harbor took on added importance.
Mr. Filley said the committee wants to see a minimum level of service and performance specified. "People want to make sure that the selectmen maintain rights for reviewing and approving any schedule changes," he said.
Mr. Filley said that when the committee began its work it initially thought there would be more time to ponder the future of the ferry. In the meantime it became evident that Roy Hayes, ferry owner, was intent on selling his operation sooner rather than later.
Mr. Filley, a Chappy resident for 25 years, said the Chappy ferry is a lifeline and must fulfill many different needs. "I think there are some areas where people have some legitimate concerns," he said.
Mr. Filley said the process provided an opportunity for people to air those concerns in public forums and in committee meetings, and it allowed the selectmen and the town to consider them. That has been a real plus, he said.
For all extents and purposes, the work of the committee is done, according to Mr. Filley. He said the committee hopes to turn over the material it compiled and its recommendations to an advisory committee appointed by the selectmen.
Mr. Filley said that essentially the question to be answered is "public ownership or private ownership." Those models could include an investor-owned ferry. The shareholders might include Chappy residents, contractors, and fishermen, said Mr. Filley.
This week, Bob Clay of Chappaquiddick, one of the VTA report authors, said that he remains open-minded. He said the decision to write a minority report recommending the VTA option and present it publicly was made with the knowledge that it might ruffle some feathers.
Mr. Clay said the divisions on the committee spurred the decision. "We didn't think anything meaningful was going to come out of the committee," he said. "The committee was so polar we were having difficulty getting anything done, and this is a good option."
Mr. Clay, a retired businessman, said that philosophically he favors private ownership, but he is realistic about the hurdles a private ferry owner would face. He said the report was intended to give the voters and the selectmen something to ponder. "We want to protect the public as best we can," he said.
The report includes a list of advantages to VTA ownership. They include the likelihood of government grants to purchase new ferries, tax advantages, familiarity with state and federal transportation programs that could help reduce costs and ticket prices, and an experienced management structure that should better serve the public during emergencies.
Alice Butler, VTA chairman, said yesterday she has not read the report and the VTA board has not discussed the Chappy ferry. "It is certainly an interesting concept," she said.
The Edgartown selectmen appointed the ferry committee after long-time ferry owner Roy Hayes offered the ferry for sale for approximately $3 million. The initial charge was only to consider a town purchase.
Long staging lines, rising fares, and uncertainty over the ferry's future have been frequent topics of discussion.