YARMOUTH, Maine — The private Chebeague Transportation Co. wants the state to give it the option to convert to a public transit district.
Legislation drafted by state Rep. Steve Moriarty, D-Cumberland, would create a law specific to Chebeague Island that could lead to establishment of the district for the ferry between Cousins Island and the Stone Pier on Chebeague Island.
Current law does not include language for waterborne public transportation without specific exceptions. Moriarty said although Chebeague does not have any plans at the moment to form a public transit district, it wants to have the option available.
He said the change could give the island more fundraising options for a new vessel.
“Currently the service provided by CTC is very limited geographically in terms of purpose and objective,” Moriarty said. “We saw no particular need to amend the statute generally, but rather thought we could simply address this single local area, and then the two towns that are directly involved, and it would be a more effective way of going about it.”
An early draft of the bill simply added the word “waterborne” to the existing law. But that worried some Yarmouth residents who believed a transit district might wield powers of eminent domain and authority to take property. Public transit districts also can ignore inconvenient town zoning laws.
But after a meeting between Yarmouth residents and area legislators, the bill now explicitly denies a district the powers of eminent domain and requires it to comply with the servicing towns’ ordinances.
Town Manager Nat Tupper said the new language in the draft addresses the concerns he and other town staff had about the proposal.
“As long as they don’t get eminent domain and respect Yarmouth’s zoning ordinances, I don’t think it’s of interest to Yarmouth,” he said.
Eric Dyers, Chebeague Island town administrator, said having the option to form a public transit system will be a benefit to residents on the island. He said Chebeague Transportation never planned to use the disputed powers, even if it had them.
“We have no intent to do that, whether we had the authority to do that or not,” he said. “We want to be good neighbors and serve our residents by creating transit that includes waterborne transportation. What we could do [under current law] is have a bus system on our island, but it couldn’t connect to the water. It would be great if no one left the island, but people do. We just want to have the option.”
Last October, the Chebeague Transportation board voted to convert the company to nonprofit. The conversion gives the company several advantages including tax-exempt status, ability to receive tax-exempt donations and the ability to apply for a larger variety of grants. The nonprofit status has not yet been approved by the Internal Revenue Service.
The public transit district would be similar to Casco Bay Lines in Portland, which services Peaks Island, Long Island, Chebeague Island, Great Diamond Island and Cliff Island.