April 04, 2020
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Sale drawing near for former Canadian ferry terminal on MDI

John Clarke Russ | BDN
John Clarke Russ | BDN
According to officials, the Maine Port Authority is close to reaching a final agreement with the Canadian government to purchase the former ferry terminal in Bar Harbor, shown here in 2008.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — After years of sitting empty and idle, the former Nova Scotia ferry pier on Route 3 might shows signs of life again this summer.

According to state and municipal officials, the Maine Port Authority is nearing a final agreement to purchase the 4.5-acre site from the Canadian government. The terminal site, which is in need of improvements, has not been in use since the CAT ferry shut down service more than five years ago.

John Henshaw, executive director of the state agency, declined to offer details about the pending purchase — including the price — but said that the two sides have reached a general agreement over the final terms. He said both parties still have to sign the paperwork, but that the sale is expected to be completed soon.

“It could be a matter of weeks,” he said late last week.

Henshaw said that exactly how the property will be re-used has not been determined but that, with ownership by the port authority, whatever redevelopment there is will focus on marine-related activity.

A $111,000 study will help identify what type of uses or businesses might be suitable for the property. Last week, the Bar Harbor Town Council agreed to fund $48,000 of the study, with the port authority expected to fund the same amount and the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce to fund the remaining $15,000.

Since the CAT ferry ceased operations in December 2009, town officials in Bar Harbor have been advocating for maintaining the site’s public accessibility and marine usage. With hoteliers David Witham and Thomas Walsh owning lodging facilities on either side of the terminal, the worry was that the site would be redeveloped as a waterfront hotel and that its public marine capabilities would disappear.

Much of the public discussion on possible redevelopment of the site has focused on the town’s growing cruise ship business, which is estimated last year to have brought more than 150,000 passengers and several million dollars in passenger and industry spending to the Mount Desert Island area.

There have been suggestions that a long pier could be built from the property into Frenchman Bay so large cruise ships could dock in Bar Harbor instead of dropping anchor in the bay and then sending passengers ashore in tenders — which sometimes is prevented by rough weather.

Henshaw said no such decision has been made, but it could be possible to have cruise ship tenders drop off and pick up passengers at the site this summer.

Other potential uses that have been floated for the property include locating some Island Explorer bus operations there and providing access to other commercial marine activities such as fishing or local tour boats. The kind of marine-related activities that occur at the pier likely will develop and evolve over time, he said.

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