With Edgartown set to receive a final report within the coming weeks on the feasibility of Chappy Ferry infrastructure improvements, town officials are considering adding a third ferry to its fleet.
Last year, the Edgartown Select Board approved a $200,000 contract with engineering firm Fuss & O’Neill to conduct a study and feasibility assessment regarding the Chappy Ferry’s susceptibility to climate change hazards.
In an update from Fuss & O’Neill at a Chappy steering committee meeting last week, Nils Wiberg said that the report, which focuses largely on the ferry ramps and the adjacent access roads, will be made available to Edgartown officials within the coming weeks.
The assessment, made possible via grant money through the state’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program, will also be looking at potential funding sources for the renovation and construction work.
But the firm’s scope of study does not yet include constructing new vessels, something that committee members say is worth considering, especially because of the significant improvements ferry infrastructure will soon undergo.
That work is expected to cost around $15 million.
“Right now we’re trying to work out the parameters,” Wiberg said. “If we get new ferries, do we look at ferries that have a greater capacity? Can we widen the landings?”
“The cost to purchase new ferries is going to be significant,” he said. “But it may be more advantageous, considering the service life of the existing infrastructure and the existing ferries.”
Still, it depends a lot on availability of grant funding.
“This committee needs to get serious about looking into that,” Chappy Ferry owner Peter Wells said at the group’s July 7 meeting.
He said the Chappy steering committee “is uniquely capable” of getting a new ferry design, along with town-sponsored grants.
He suggested that the town would own the ferry, and lease it to whoever operates it.
“This committee can get a new boat designed, get it built, and get it underway,” Wells said. “If you’re serious about doing something about ferry lines, about the time it takes, that’s the next step to go to.”
He inquired as to whether Fuss & O’Neill “is qualified to specify, or even understand, the criteria for the design of a new ferry,” and suggested that the committee engage a naval architect who might know about the process.
Committee chair Rick Schifter said he’d be interested in first seeing whether Fuss & O’Neill could look into the possibility of designing a new ferry, and to see if a naval architect would be necessary.
But “in the context of looking at redoing the docks and so forth,” he said, “that’s the time to be thinking about new boats and boat design.”
Committee member Bill Brine noted that current U.S. Coast Guard regulations regarding vessel design and construction are “hugely complex,” and said it would behoove the town to engage a naval architect to help them better understand their options.
“It would have a huge impact on landside design if we built to the Coast Guard standards of today,” he said. “A marine architect who understands the T-boat ferry is critical.”
“This is not something that we’ll be able to build on the landside without fully understanding the waterside too,” Brine said.
“We better make sure that we understand what our expectations are, because a marine architect can go build us an Islander or an Island Home, neither of which are going to work for us,” he continued. “We’ve got to make sure that we’re [operating] in the little corner of the Coast Guard regulations that we currently operate in.”
“We need to find somebody who really knows their stuff,” he said.
“If there’s anyone in this group who knows a qualified naval architect who’s local and knows the Vineyard waters, and can help support this task, that’d probably be beneficial,” town administrator James Hagerty said. “Whatever avenue this group takes on naval architects, I think it would be beneficial to [the town].”
Schifter said the first step will be to engage Fuss & O’Niell to see if they’d be able to identify funding sources and facets to ferry construction, which will give the committee more information on how to move forward.
“We’ll see what they come up with,” Schifter said, adding that it will give the committee a basis to decide whether this is something they’d want to pursue outside of the eventual infrastructural improvements, or alongside it.