BAR HARBOR, Maine — State, town and business officials are teaming up to conduct a study on possible reuses of the former ferry terminal.
Officials with the town, Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce and Maine Port Authority said Monday that they hope the study will be complete in the next few weeks. Marine Atlantic, the Canadian firm that owns the terminal, has indicated that it hopes to sell the 4.5-acre waterfront property soon, perhaps by the end of the year, officials said.
The cost of the study, $32,400, is being split evenly between the Chamber, the town and the state’s Port Authority. The study is being done by Bermello Ajamil & Partners Inc., the same Miami-based firm that developed a cruise ship industry destination management plan for Bar Harbor in the winter of 2006-2007.
John Henshaw, executive director of the Maine Port Authority, said Monday that Bermello Ajamil was selected to do the study because when it drafted the destination management plan five years ago, it studied the existing marine uses and traffic in Bar Harbor. He said the state agrees with local municipal and business officials that the property should continue to be used for public marine access and use.
“They’ve done a lot of the groundwork already,” Henshaw said of Bermello Ajamil. “There’s a general consensus [that] people would like to see it preserved as a marine terminal.”
If Marine Atlantic sells the property, he said, there’s a possibility the new owner could develop it for something other than public marine access, he said. The goal of completing the study soon, he said, is to be able to make some sort of proposal to Marine Atlantic.
The assessed value of the ferry terminal property, according to the town’s assessing database, is $6.6 million.
However the property might be used going forward, one issue that will have to be addressed is the physical state of the pier. A Nov. 30, 2010, inspection by Maine Department of Transportation divers of the pilings under the pier indicates that it has been given a rating of four on a scale of one to nine, meaning that it is in “poor” shape.
Chris Fogg, executive director of the local Chamber, said Monday that the organization is interested in preserving the parcel’s marine access and also wants to make sure that future operations preserve the local business community. International ferry service to Canada has been an asset to Bar Harbor’s tourist trade and should be considered among other possible future uses, he said.
“We’d love to see ferry service come back,” Fogg said.
Dana Reed, Bar Harbor’s town manager, said Monday that the Town Council voted last month to help fund the study because of the importance of water access to the town. He said the town would like to see the property in public rather than private hands so future marine access can be guaranteed.
Reed said the study is expected to include possible uses related to the cruise ship industry but there are other types of public use that will be considered. A drop-off spot for the free seasonal Island Explorer bus system, parking and fishermen access all will be considered, he said.
Fishermen now use the town pier downtown for many reasons, Reed said, but the ferry terminal site might be an easier access point for many.
Reed said that merely using the site as a ferry terminal isn’t practical given the economic realities of passenger ferry service.
“Historically, ferry service has not been able to pay its own way,” Reed said. “It’s always required a subsidy.”
Figuring out how to preserve public access at the site and how to keep operations at the site economically sustainable without subsidies is a key objective of the study, according to Reed.
“I’d say it’s wide open right now,” Reed said of the property’s possible future uses.
The pier has not had regular ferry service since 2009 when another Canadian firm, Bay Ferries Ltd., canceled operation of The Cat. Bay Ferries operated the high-speed catamaran car ferry between Bar Harbor and Yarmouth for 12 years, from 1998 through 2009, and for the last four of those years also made regular runs between Yarmouth and Portland. In Portland, the ferry docked at the city-owned Ocean Gateway terminal, which is where cruise ships tie up during stopovers.
Bay Ferries pulled the plug on the ferry service in December 2009 after the provincial government of Nova Scotia ended its annual subsidy of the service, which had risen to more than $5 million. The 320-foot Cat ferry, which sat tied up to the Bar Harbor pier for much of 2010, reportedly was sold last winter to a ferry operator in China.
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