Buyer emerges for Chappy ferry business
Peter Wells, a captain who has stood at the helm of the Chappy ferry for many years, is close to completing a deal to buy the ferry business from owner Roy Hayes.
Edgartown selectmen have scheduled a hearing next week to discuss transfer of the ferry license and the lease of the town-owned landings.
Mr. Wells said he does intend to buy the ferry and expects to sign a purchase and sales agreement prior to the Jan. 22 license transfer hearing. He said he looks forward to speaking about his plans, but for now the circumspect Chappy resident declined to elaborate, out of courtesy to Mr. Hayes. "It's still Roy's boat," he said.
Mr. Hayes, who has operated the ferry under a lease agreement with the town for the past two decades, is equally reticent in speaking about the sale. "I don't like to say what's going to happen, because I'm not in control of all of it," he said. "The banks are involved, the lawyers are involved. It's moving forward, and things are going well."
Mr. Wells said the rumors of an impending sale and an information void have created some concerns and fears among frequent riders that rates will rise. He said he has done his best to reassure people that there is no reason to worry.
Mr. Wells said he has more than 33 years of experience running the ferries, but not running a ferry business. He plans to move slowly. "I plan to run it for a while and figure out all the ins and outs," he said.
Mr. Wells is also very familiar with his year-round customer base. "They are all my neighbors, I live on Chappaquiddick," he said. "And I know most everybody, and the ones I don't know I'm going to get to know real quick."
According to a resume submitted to the Edgartown selectmen, Mr. Wells began working on the ferry as a deck hand in 1966, and became a captain in 1974, shortly after graduating from the Maine Maritime Academy. He worked full-time as a captain until 1986, when he went to work for surveyor Glenn Provost, and continued work at the ferry on a part-time basis.
Mr. Wells retired from the surveying job in 2006, and returned to the ferry as a full-time captain. "Then this came up," he said about the purchase.
The future of the Chappy ferry sparked concern earlier this year when Mr. Hayes suggested the town purchase the business for $3 million.
The small, three-car vehicle and passenger ferry crosses Edgartown Harbor and provides the only link to Chappaquiddick. When a powerful storm last April created a cut in the beach that linked Chappy to Katama, which some Chappy residents used for access in four-wheel-drive vehicles, the reliability and schedule of the ferry took on added importance.
The selectmen appointed a Purchase the Chappy Ferry Committee (PCFC) to study the idea of the town buying the ferry. After seven months of sometimes contentious meetings, the committee advised the town not to purchase the business to operate as a town department, and not to continue the current lease arrangement as it now stands. Selectmen have not taken any action on those recommendations.
"I'm sure some people will be bringing up those points at the hearing," said Woody Filley, who chaired the PCFC. Mr. Filley was non-committal when asked whether he was concerned that a straight transfer of the license would indicate selectmen are not addressing his committee's recommendations for change in the licensing arrangement.
"That falls in the selectmen's corner. They are the licensing authority," said Mr. Filley.
Earlier this month, selectmen approved a resolution offering support for Mr. Wells's effort to purchase the Chappy ferry.