Updated Feb. 4, 10:30p
Chappaquiddick residents filled the Fred B. Morgan meeting room Monday night, with many spilling out into the hallway, for a selectmen’s hearing on the Chappy Ferry.
Chappy residents want more say in the ferry service. Frustrated by rate hikes, what they allege are ambiguous residency criteria, and concerns the ferry operation lacks sufficient oversight, they pressed Edgartown selectmen for a governing board. After much debate, they didn’t get the selectmen to authorize a board, but did land a steering committee that could lead the way toward a board.
Chappaquiddick, the island portion of Edgartown, is reached by small, flattop ferries run by Chappaquiddick Ferry Inc. across Edgartown Harbor. Peter Wells and Sally Snipes own the corporation. That corporation owns the slips and transfer bridges, the ferries themselves — On Time II, for example — crews those ferries, and manages ticketing. Edgartown owns the real estate the transfer bridges and similar ferry infrastructure are built on. The town, which licenses the operation, has limited authority over the ferry company. Edgartown obligates the ferry service to maintain certain operating hours, and it has a say in whether the maximum service rate can be changed. This translates into the rate for nonresident, or general, passage for people and vehicles, whereas the discount rate, which rose in October, is for residents.
Who is classified as a resident, and by what criteria, were among the issues Chappy residents raised. As part of a slideshow presentation put on by Chappy resident Rick Biros, the demands of Chappy residents took center stage. They asked the board to conduct an audit into the ferry operation, to review rates, and to roll back rates until a review is complete, and build a governing board.
“It’s more than just how many days you have to be on Chappy; I’ve been a resident of Edgartown for many, many, many decades,” Ann Floyd said. “And I moved there to Chappaquiddick on Monday full-time. I find it curious that I have to wait an arbitrary length of time before I am eligible for Chappy resident rates.”
In October, 50-ticket discount/residential booklets for walk-on passengers changed from $50 to $75. Discount/residential 50-ticket booklets for car passage changed from $100 to $125.
The nonresident fares changed in May, with approval from the selectmen. The cost of nonresident car-passage booklets decreased. Previously, a nonresident book of car-passage tickets cost $225 for 50 tickets. Now the booklets cost $200, but only hold 40 tickets.
Wells, who was largely reticent at the selectmen’s hearing, told The Times he thinks the criteria for resident status are clear, and that there’s not a lot of wiggle room to offer the rate to anyone who wants it.
“Not everybody can get the resident rate,” he said. “The ferry can’t afford it. The purpose was to give it to people who need it.”
Wells said anyone who is a resident on Chappy for one year qualifies for the discounted rate. One important qualifier going forward is that the person cannot live off Chappy for more than 45 days in any subsequent year.
“There’s nothing arbitrary about it,” he said. “Everyone who has the residential ticket now plays by those rules.”
Wells said the resident discount began in the 1970s with former owner Jared Grant, who had a 30-day threshold.
Wells said it was Grant’s philosophy that “if you can afford to be away for more than 30 days, you don’t need my money.”
The next owner, Roy Hayes, raised it to 45 days, Wells said. “In reality, that resident rate is a low, low price,” he said.
The board and audience were told by town counsel Ron Rappaport that given the esoteric nature of the law governing such a ferry service, a specialist outside counsel would be needed to figure out a lawful way to move forward on a governing board and other matters. The one Rappaport had in mind charges over $800 per hour, so his advice would need to be used judiciously, if used, he said. Selectmen Margaret Serpa and Arthur Smadbeck made no commitment on employing that attorney, but instead agreed to authorize a steering committee to be appointed by selectmen. Selectman Michael Donaroma was absent. The committee would make recommendations to the selectmen about the Chappy Ferry. The board agreed to a deadline of March 2 to accept letters of interest for the committee. Wells told the board he was favorably disposed to being part of the committee.
Updated to correct and add to facts about the ferry service.