Edgartown preps Chappy Ferry for rising seas, stronger storms

by Eunki Seonwoo

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.

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