Edgartown preps Chappy Ferry for rising seas, stronger storms

A recent study recommends Edgartown plan for high tides that will be six feet higher within 50 years.

A map showing projected "higher high tides" in the Edgartowna and Chappy coastal areas.

Updated May 3

Edgartown is making plans to keep itself above water. 

During a public information session held by the Chappy steering committee on Thursday, April 27, consultants shared their findings of a study looking at climate change, its impacts on Chappy Ferry infrastructure, and possible next steps to protect parts of the harborfront.

Possible solutions include raising Chappy Ferry infrastructure nearly six feet in some areas.

Edgartown joined the state’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program in 2019, and received grant funding to assess climate change vulnerability on municipal infrastructure. 

“We identified three areas that needed to be looked at,” Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty said. “One was Memorial Wharf, two is Chappy Ferry, and three was North Wharf.”

Chappy Ferry has already undergone a phase of improvements, and North Wharf improvements are underway. According to Hagerty, improvements to ferry infrastructure are expected to be the most expensive of the three. 

Woods Hole Group senior environmental scientist Joseph Famely said a townwide climate vulnerability assessment was done by environmental services firm Woods Hole Group and engineering firm Fuss & O’Neill on Edgartown’s infrastructure and natural resources. 

“We used the Massachusetts Coast Flood Risk Assessment Model to do this,” he said. “Here in Massachusetts, we benefit from some really forward-thinking agencies that developed both sea level rise projections, as well as feeding those into an integrative, highly dynamic storm surge model.”

The impacts of sea level rise and storm surge were the biggest risks studied. A map shown by Famely displayed the projected average “higher high tide” encroaching around a couple of feet into Edgartown and Chappaquiddick coastal lands as soon as 2030, and nearly six feet by 2070. Nuisance flooding — also known as high tide flooding — is also expected to rise. Additionally, the flood risk to Chappy Ferry infrastructure and equipment is elevated. 

Fuss & O’Neill senior transportation engineer Katherine Patch said the scope of the project included field surveys and investigations, development and evaluation of potential options, strategizing for permitting and compliance, and a 40 percent design drawings and construction cost estimate. 

Consultants looked at changes to the Edgartown ferry landing area (Memorial Wharf and parts of Dock Street and Daggett Street), the Chappaquiddick ferry landing area (parking area and an adjacent portion of Chappaquiddick Road), the ferries and ferry landing hoists, the Chappy Ferry operations building, and Old Sculpin Gallery. 

“This is going to be a menu of sorts, and each have their pros and cons,” Patch said. “But we are looking at resilience adaptations for each of these pieces of infrastructure.” 

The consultants recommend raising four of the areas. The Edgartown ferry landing infrastructure would be raised to 3.4 feet on an interim basis during the first phase, and then to 5.8 feet in the second phase. The second phase would encompass a larger portion of the planned area. The Chappy ferry landing area could also be elevated. As for the Chappy Ferry operations building, the proposal is to raise the existing building or to construct a new one. The Old Sculpin Gallery would also be raised, with options to keep it at its current location, or to move it up to eight feet to the southwest or northwest. 

Consultants recommend modifying or replacing landing hoists at the terminal, or replacing the hoists with double-ended ferries equipped with deployable ramps.

Patch said the long-term goal of the project is to maximize resilience to climate change, maximize adaptability, minimize vulnerability to climate change–induced damage, and minimize costs associated with the operation, maintenance, repair, and future replacement of parts. Although a work in progress, Patch expects the final version of the 40 percent plans, specifications, and cost estimates to be presented in September or October. 

Segments of the meeting were reserved for questions and comments from the public. Eighty-four people attended the Zoom meeting at its peak. 

When meeting attendee Lindsay Allison asked why the project focused on only a small part of the Edgartown waterfront, Patch said the mitigation methods that will be brought forward will be applicable to other areas. 

Edgartown Master Plan steering committee member Rob Strayton pointed out Edgartown’s entire waterfront is vulnerable to sea level rise, and the town should look at addressing these areas as well. 

“We should all be concerned about the rest of it as well,” he said. “All of Chappy Point is certainly vulnerable. I mean, just look at high tides now, with the breach. The water’s right up to that seawall, and washing over.” 

Meeting attendee Julia Livingston suggested looking at electric vessels if new ferries are implemented as a part of the planning. 

Hagerty also clarified how much of the improvements will be publicly and privately funded. He said that will be clearer once the Chappy Ferry’s new ownership is fully settled. Paul O’Donnell, who is with a nonprofit looking at possibly buying the Chappy Ferry, expressed interest in upcoming planning during the meeting. 

Patch said more consulting will be done with the town, and the plans will “iron out” the construction phase details.


  1. That 10 trillion dollar “green new deal” seems to be looking like a bargain.

    But “a couple of feet” by 2030 is not really a possibility, unless something totally bizarre happens.
    Sure , sea level is rising, but the current rate is about 1/4 inch a year.
    No reputable scientists are predicting “a couple of feet ” in the next 7 years.
    The consensuses in the scientific community is that sea level will rise between one and four feet by 2100. Of course, they have been consistently underestimating for the last 30 years, and have always had to round their estimates up to match reality and the changing dynamics. That will likely continue to be the case.
    But to say that sea level rise will be a couple of feet higher in 7 years just gives the “sleep” people something to mock.
    Let’s stick with the science.

      • andy– actually it is. There is a high degree of uncertainty involved with this situation. For instance, if we got a real leader who actually dealt with carbon emissions and developed technologies to remove carbon already in the atmosphere,we might only get one foot of sea level rise.
        However if we keep electing climate deniers and blaming all of our problems on “dems” we will likely have 4 or more ft.
        Some studies project 10 or more ft, but their methodology is in my opinion, flawed, so i disregard them.
        One thing for sure, no reputable scientist are projecting anything under one foot.
        i look at the one standard deviation associated with thousands of projections, studies and computer models. But if you look at those bell curves, there is a very sharp rise on the left side, and a slow decline on the right side. There is virtually no possibility of less than one foot. What do you think the economic cost of even one foot will be ?
        perhaps 5 trillion dollars ? In some of the worst case scenarios it will rise by as much as 12 ft.
        That would easily cause 10 trillion dollars worth of damage in the U.S alone.
        It’s sort of like trying to predict how many people could die from COVID in March of 2020. Reputable scientist were warning us that up to 500,000 Americans could die from this if we didn’t take serious precautions.
        Others predicted it was nothing more than a “flu” and that we would “never get close to 1,000 deaths in the U.S.” The scientist weren’t so sure because they couldn’t predict the variability of how we dealt with it.
        Those that that predicted a low number however were quite certain of that less than a thousand number, because they just had an opinion that was based on their opinion.
        It turned out they were all wrong, because the administration in power ignored all reasonable efforts to control it, and we wound up with well over a million deaths in this country.
        If the leaders of the world ignore the climate issue, it could easily get to that 12 foot mark.
        That’s science.

        • Between one and four feet gives the prognosticators all manner of sleeve room to be correct. That is prognostication and not science. It is similar to one saying that Biden has a chance of winning again at 20 to 80 percent probability. You cant keep protecting yourself when you encumber your posts with attacks on some right wingers or some journals that you conveniently disregard. You put forward hypotheses and then suggest that anything else is not newsworthy.

          • andy– I put forward educated opinions– where have I ever said that some stories are “not newsworthy”?
            There are variables in dealing with anything that has to do with human behavior.
            As I mentioned, Just as an example, we had predictions of the number of Covid deaths in the U.S ranging from “no where near a thousand” to as high as 500,000 , but we know the reality. — way over a million–
            Would I be incorrect to state that the stock market could drop by 30% in the next year (if right wing nutcases insist we default on our debt) or grows by 30% if congress comes to its senses and goes full in on the green new deal and allow “job creators” to create millions of high paying jobs ?
            We can debate that– but don’t lie and claim that I have ever suggested that a regional or national story of any significance is not newsworthy.
            And as far as disregarding journalist– I know people who reject anything I show them that comes from “liberal media”. You might actually know someone who fits that profile.

  2. Eunki —

    Please check this story. I attended the meeting, and my understanding was that although the plan is to provide for a level of 5.8 feet in phase 2, the present sea level is 2.5 feet (check this number as I may not remember it correctly). That means that that ramp is not going up six feet as your Minute headline states. If I am correct, please add that to the story.

    Best, Alan

  3. A rise of two feet by 2030 seems high. That’s only 6 1/2 years away. If you are a believer, this is certainly cause for concern.

  4. Editor’s note: it’s not that sea levels are rising by 2 feet in the next 7 years, the average high tide is rising 2 feet higher on the shore.

    • sam — are you saying that you were attempting to indicate that high tide would move 2 feet further inland , and inundate 2 feet of shoreline ?
      Well, “that’s different–never mind” – Roseanna Roseannadanna

  5. WHOI scientists also predicted that downtown Edgartown would be a swamp in 50 years. That assessment was made 25 years ago and I haven’t been downtown in a couple of weeks but last I checked zero parts of downtown are a swamp. You’d think that 25 years in at least a portion would be swampy. So much for predictions.

  6. Sea level rise is easily understood if one has lived long enough in a coastal area. My grandmother who grew up here used to describe parties at South Beach where they would drive more than an extra quarter mile beyond the Herring Creek to get to the beach. As a kid in Edgartown, my family would organize birthday parties in a huge bowl behind a sizable dune across a little bridge that ran from the end of Fuller St across the sand for about 100 feet to get to the water. If you haven’t been to the so called Fuller St Beach in a while…. Go look for yourself…. It is GONE… NO MORE FULLER STREET BEACH! There’s a pile of dredge spoils at the end of Fuller Street apparently as an effort to keep the sea from eating away at the street itself. People, there’s no more sand into which we can even begin to stick our collective heads. Every town needs to be planning and acting on planned infrastructure resilience and retreat from the rising seas!

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