Billy Goat Boats awarded 10-year deal for Orange boathouse

Billy Goat Boats at the Orange Community Boathouse at 25 East River St. in Orange.

Billy Goat Boats at the Orange Community Boathouse at 25 East River St. in Orange. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Watercraft inside Billy Goat Boats at the Orange Community Boathouse at 25 East River St. in Orange.

Watercraft inside Billy Goat Boats at the Orange Community Boathouse at 25 East River St. in Orange. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 02-01-2024 4:10 PM

ORANGE — It seems Billy Goat Boats isn’t going anywhere, as the Selectboard opted this week to award the family-run watercraft rental business use of the boathouse following a public and contentious leasing fiasco.

The company owned and operated by Samantha and Jerry Whaland was evicted from the boathouse at 25 East River St. in December after the town claimed it had not received rent in two years, in violation of a lease agreement. But once Gabriele “Gabe” Voelker, who retired as town administrator last March, took responsibility for a misunderstanding, the Selectboard worked to accommodate the small business by issuing a new request for proposals (RFP) and inviting the Whalands to submit an application.

The Selectboard on Wednesday voted unanimously to award a 10-year deal to Billy Goat Boats after Town Administrator Matthew Fortier explained that a review committee determined the Whalands’ proposal was the most advantageous of the two received. Billy Goat Boats will pay an annual rent of $2,400 for five years, with $80 increases each year for years six through 10.

“Congratulations,” Selectboard member Jane Peirce told Jerry, who was sitting in the back of the meeting room, shortly before the vote.

Voelker explained at a previous Selectboard meeting that the lease expired and she gave verbal permission for the company to stay through at least the end of 2023.

“[Jerry Whaland] had no idea he was in violation of his lease. This is completely, 100% on me,” Voelker read from a statement a couple of months ago. “I was not aware that I couldn’t extend it. I thought I could.”

Voelker explained that the boathouse was empty when she became town administrator and the previous owner did not pay the rent of $1 per year. This, Voelker said, set a precedent. She said she was overwhelmed with other town matters, including the June 2022 downtown arson and the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the lease for Billy Goat Boats got put on the proverbial back burner.

This has been an infuriating situation for Jerry Whaland, who at the Dec. 6 meeting excused himself from the room after introducing his wife, who spoke with the Selectboard. Samantha Hakala-Whaland said vicious online criticism and the town’s poor handling of this matter made her question whether to continue operating Billy Goat Boats in Orange. The business took to Facebook to ask for letters of support and received nearly 30, all but one of which was submitted with the RPF application. Whaland said at Wednesday’s meeting that he withheld that one letter because it was particularly angry.

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Asked if he had a comment after the vote, Whaland said the letters had said enough.

“I was halfway out of town,” Whaland said from the back of the room, adding that he and his wife appreciate the community’s love and support. “And I assure you that’s why we’re still here.”

Selectboard Chair Tom Smith asked Whaland to approach the front of the room and the two exchanged a handshake and a hug, with Smith congratulating him on the RFP and joking that he might “get me in a kayak.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.