February 19, 2020
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Ramp problem idles ferry terminal

SWAN’S ISLAND, Maine — Local residents have had to find another way to get back and forth from Bass Harbor on Mount Desert Island to their island community while state transportation officials try to repair a ramp at the island’s ferry terminal.

Officials with Maine Department of Transportation, which operates the ferry service to and from Swan’s Island, have indicated that the ramp has been rendered inoperable by a damaged cable and an electrical problem. The ramp, or transfer bridge, is what vehicles and pedestrians cross when they board and disembark from the ferry that serves the island.

DOT officials said Wednesday that they hope to have the ramp repaired by Friday.

Meanwhile, DOT has arranged for a private company to ferry people back and forth between Swan’s Island and Bass Harbor. On its own, another company has offered to barge vehicles across the bay between the two towns, according to Rick Dubois, multimodal maintenance engineer for DOT.

Dubois said he and his colleagues have not determined what caused the ramp to malfunction, but that at one point it was submerged in the water. Whether this happened before or after an electrical short occurred, or whether a crimp in the cable may be a cause or a symptom of the malfunction, he said he did not know.

“We did have some serious weather the night before last,” Dubois said. “We discovered this problem yesterday morning.”

The ferry vessel Captain Henry Lee, which the state normally uses to serve Swan’s Island, is not being used because it is not well-suited for docking at other types of piers and floats, Dubois said.

Swan’s Island resident Donna Wiegle said Wednesday that a cell phone service vehicle and a delivery truck were barged out to the island on Tuesday, so residents are confident they can get the goods and services they need.

The major concern for island residents when they temporarily lose vehicle ferry access to the mainland is the threat of medical emergencies, Wiegle said. If there was such an emergency, people likely would be able to use a private boat or a LifeFlight helicopter to get to the hospital, she said.

This time of year, when there usually is room on the ferry, most residents do not keep a car in Bass Harbor, according to Wiegle. But if someone can’t get their car across between now and Friday, they likely will be able to share a ride with someone on the other side or borrow a car.

Wiegle said that not having the car ferry service does not itself constitute an emergency. On other islands that have only passenger ferry service such as Isle au Haut and the Cranberry Isles, people are used to leaving their vehicles behind when they go off the island.

“It’s an inconvenience, but it’s nothing you can’t survive a few days without,” she said. “It’s not the end of the world.”



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