Cat ferry operator drops lease for MDI terminal

Posted March 19, 2011, at 2:20 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 5:08 a.m.
The Cat departs Frenchman Bay in January.
Photo courtesy of Capt. Winston Shaw
The Cat departs Frenchman Bay in January.

BAR HARBOR, Maine —- Nearly two months after The Cat ferry sailed off from the local international ferry terminal without any official explanation, the company that owns the terminal property said that the ferry operator has dropped its lease for the Route 3 facility.

Tara Laing, spokeswoman with Marine Atlantic, the Canadian firm that owns the ferry terminal, said Friday that Bay Ferries recently notified Marine Atlantic that it no longer has any use for the Mount Desert Island property. She said Bay Ferries had leased the property indefinitely.

Despite its decision 15 months ago to cancel ferry service from Bar Harbor and Portland to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Bay Ferries maintained a presence at the Route 3 terminal up until late January. The 320-foot long catamaran ferry had been tied up at the terminal for months while its future hung in limbo. But on Jan. 23 it  motored out of Frenchman Bay without any word from Bay Ferries of where it was headed.

Laing said Friday that Marine Atlantic, which used to operate the monohull Bluenose ferry between Bar Harbor and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, has no intent to operate a ferry between the two countries. Marine Atlantic, which is wholly owned by the Canadian government, operates two ferry routes between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.

Laing said the firm has not decided what to do with the vacant terminal in Bar Harbor. It has not ruled out selling it or trying to find a new tenant, she said.

“We’re just looking at our options for the property,” Laing said. “We’re doing an analysis of the property now.”

For tax purposes, the 4.5-acre oceanfront property has an assessed value of nearly $6.5 million, according to Bar Harbor’s official online assessing database. It has been used as a ferry terminal since ferry service between Bar Harbor and Yarmouth was first introduced in 1956.

When it announced in December 2009 that it was canceling the 53-year-old ferry service, Bay Ferries attributed the decision to the loss of its annual subsidy from the Nova Scotia provincial government. The subsidy was $1.25 million in its first two years, 2006 and 2007, but grew to approximately $6 million in 2008 and 2009.

Bay Ferries has not responded to recent requests for comment about its presence in Bar Harbor. Last month, after local residents saw the The Cat disappear over the horizon for the last time, Bay Ferries Vice President Don Cormier flatly refused to talk about where The Cat had gone or what the company may have done with it.

“We’re a private company,” Cormier told the Bangor Daily News. “I’m not going to comment on it.”

According to information posted on online shipping forums, and to area residents who regularly interacted with Bay Ferries through their jobs, the boat had been sold to an unidentified firm in China and has traveled through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific Ocean.

Local officials and business leaders have said the loss of ferry service between Bar Harbor and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, has been noticed by local businesses, particularly by owners of neighboring hotels.

But none of the local effects has been as obvious as those on the eastern side of the Gulf of Maine, where Canadian media outlets have indicated the loss of ferry service has been acutely felt in Yarmouth.

In January, the 65-room Rodd Colony Harbour Inn in Yarmouth closed its doors and laid off 20 people because of the lack of ferry service across the gulf, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Bay Ferries, which took over the ferry route from Marine Atlantic in 1997, began service with The Cat the following year, reducing the time it took to make the crossing from six hours to less than three.

In 2002, Bay Ferries upgraded the Cat from a 300-foot vessel to a 320-foot catamaran that cost $50 million in U.S. currency. Four years later, Bay Ferries began splitting The Cat’s Maine ports of call between Bar Harbor and Portland, after the competing ferry Scotia Prince ceased operations in the southern Maine city.

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