Edgartown mulls Chappy Ferry future

Selectmen discuss short- and long-term goals for town-ferry relations.

The future of the Chappy ferry is being considered by Edgartown selectmen and concerned residents. — Rich Saltzberg

Updated March 5

Edgartown selectmen discussed forming a Chappy Ferry steering committee at their Monday meeting, and wondered whether the current framework between the town and the ferry service is adequate.

At a prior meeting, dozens of Chappy residents were in attendance to demand more input in how the ferry service is operated. 

Frustrated by rate hikes, the Chappy residents are concerned that there is a lack of oversight over the ferry service, and are pushing for a governing board. 

Chappaquiddick, a separate island that’s part of Edgartown, is reached by ferries run by Chappaquiddick Ferry Inc. across Edgartown Harbor. Peter Wells and Sally Snipes own the corporation. 

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.

Currently, 50-ticket discount/residential booklets for walk-on passengers cost $150. Discount/residential 50-ticket booklets for car passage cost $225. 

Town administrator James Hagerty posed the question to selectmen and to members of the public in the audience: “What is going to be the paradigm and the framework for choosing these people?”

Hagerty said there are a total of 16 applicants to the Chappy Ferry steering committee, all with diverse backgrounds and varying scopes of knowledge. He said that six to eight members would be the ideal number “if we actually want to achieve anything.”

He asked how the selection process should go, and whether the board will simply appoint members that they deem fit, or interview applicants individually. 

“I would argue that we have a pretty intimate knowledge of every person on that list from various interactions, whether it be from this board or other town boards,” Hagerty said.

Although Hagerty said each candidate has a unique skill set to offer, he said choosing 16 candidates for the committee would be counterproductive. “It’s a diverse group of people that represent year-round residents and seasonal residents. There are some who are very against the current framework, and some who are in the middle,” Hagerty said.

Ultimately, Hagerty said, the committee must consist of stakeholders that represent different facets of Edgartown, and in particular, the Chappy community.

“We need a group that can really achieve something. I think 16 people might be too daunting,” Hagerty said.

Chappy resident Rick Biros said he agrees that there should be an interview process, and suggested a five- or seven-member committee would make the most sense in order to avoid tie votes.

Depending on how much oversight the steering committee holds, Biros said, its primary goal should be to form a board of governors that have direct control over ferry operations.

“The board of governors should dictate the process through which any changes and additions are made that help the ferry,” Biros said. “The long-term sustainability of the ferry is in the best interest of all stakeholders.”

Biros said the board of governors should have a representative from the town, the ferry, the bank, and “maybe three to five others with a vested interest, or stakeholders.”

He said the process to establish this group should be prompt, and said the town should make some serious headway before the busy summer season rolls around.

Hagerty said that once the town has tentative names selected, the next step is to figure out the town’s “left and right lateral limits” with regard to the legal agreements between the municipal government and the Chappy Ferry.

In a phone conversation with The Times, Hagerty said that the town has a license and a lease in place with the ferry, and important questions need to be asked about what the town is and isn’t allowed to do based on the concerns of residents.

Hagerty said that by forming a steering committee, those questions will be generated and sent to an external attorney that specializes in ferry law, in order to establish legal precedents going forward. 

At the meeting, Hagerty said that the last thing the town wants to do is expose itself to litigation by contradicting pre-established licensing and lease agreements.

“The first question is, Can you statutorily even form a governing board based on the current paradigm?” Hagerty asked.

Selectman Art Smadbeck said there should be a short-term and a long-term goal for this committee once it is formed.

“The short term is to determine what can be accomplished between now and 2023, under the current structure,” Smadbeck said. “The long term is what you want to do after 2023. This is a committee that is going to devise what will be in the license that we re-negotiate in 2023.”

Chappy resident Dennis Goldin said waiting till 2023 to see any effective change is a “red flag.” He suggested that the steering committee sit down with town officials and members of the ferry service to assure that the ferry has a proper income stream, and that the right limits are placed on what the town can and cannot control.

“This should be resolved easily,” Goldin said.

Goldin said there has to be a resolution in the near future so that the current residents of Chappy are no longer “being financially undermined by the pricing structure.”

He referred back to when a selectmen’s advisory committee was formed in 2007 to review the Chappy Ferry service. “Nothing was actually done. No one wants to participate in that,” Goldin said.

 If a similar advisory body is formed, Goldin said the only resolution that would occur is the “high-priced, ridiculous approach,” where people hire their own attorneys to sue the town.

“It all seems so counterproductive,” Goldin said. “If we all sit down together, I think we can resolve this in a win-win situation for the town and residents.”

Hagerty said he expects the steering committee to be appointed by March 9 after filtering through the 16 applicants and narrowing that list down to 10 possible appointees. Hagerty said he will then interview those 10 appointees and make selections at that time.

Updated to correct Chappy ferry travel rates. — Ed.


  1. Gee wouldn’t it be nice if the town owned it?
    Ooppps, been there done that!
    I remember when it was decided that it would be better managed if owned privately.
    But wait…did we take away the moorings from a private company because they would be better managed municipally ???

    • When did the town own it? I remember a prior arrangement where the town maintained the ramps but not the ferry. Current owner Wells then prior owners were R. Hayes, D Grant, J Grant, and didnt foster silva own before then? As for the moorings, the town does a good job of running the harbor mooring rentals and leases.

  2. This article has a few errors— the prices referenced for the car ticket books is incorrect

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