August 16, 2018
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Canadian ferry firm proposes 5-year lease, $1M minimum total payment for Bar Harbor site

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
The high-speed ferry known as The Cat sits at the Ocean Gateway Terminal in Portland in this June 2016 file photo. The company that operates the ferry has proposed to pay Bar Harbor a minimum of $1 million over 5 years to base the ferry in Bar Harbor starting in 2019.
By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff

In a proposal to base The CAT in Bar Harbor, the Canadian firm that operates high-speed ferry service between Maine and Nova Scotia says it will spend $3 million in infrastructure improvements to the idle Route 3 property and will pay the town at least $200,000 in annual rent for five years. Both dollar figures are in U.S. currency.

The town received the 15-page proposal to relocate The CAT from Portland to Bar Harbor last week. The elected town council is expected to discuss the proposal, and to speak directly with Bay Ferries CEO Mark MacDonald, when it meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 17.

In the proposal, the company says it plans to continue using the same catamaran it currently leases from the U.S. Navy and that it hopes to start offering service from Bar Harbor next June. It says it hopes it can work out a final agreement with the town, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the provincial government of Nova Scotia by October.

Bay Ferries proposes to sign a five-year lease to use for the Route 3 property, which Bar Harbor voters decided last month to purchase from the state, at a minimum of $200,000 a year, with higher payments possible depending on the volume of passengers and vehicles it carries.

Based on its projections, the firm predicts it could pay the town around $260,000 in rent in 2019, $294,000 in 2020, and $326,000 in 2021. It also indicates that it believes other possible public uses for the property, such as a boat launch, parking, information or bathrooms, could be compatible with international ferry service.

The company also points out in the proposal that although it receives an operating subsidy from Nova Scotia, it does not expect to depend upon the subsidy sustain ferry operations to and from Bar Harbor. In 2016, Bay Ferries signed a 10-year service agreement with the province that, in its first two years, was worth around a total of $30 million in Canadian currency. More detailed information about the value of the agreement have not been disclosed.

“From 1997 to 2006, Bay [Ferries] operated the Bar Harbor/Yarmouth [Nova Scotia] ferry service with no government subsidy and the service showed a profit for the first time in the history of the route,” which first began in 1956, the company wrote in the proposal.

The shorter distance between Bar Harbor and the Nova Scotia terminal — 106 miles versus 186 miles from Portland — will reduce the ferry’s fuel consumption, allow it to travel at more “modest” speeds, and “generally supports the creation of a long-term sustainable business model,” Bay Ferries added.

The subsidy was first implemented in 2006, when Bay Ferries began operating between Bar Harbor, Nova Scotia and Portland. The termination of the subsidy at the end of 2009 resulted in no ferry service across the Gulf of Maine from 2010 through 2013.

The firm also noted that two polls show support in Bar Harbor for bringing back the international ferry service to town. Out of 87 people who responded to an online Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce poll, 72 indicated that they would like to see The CAT resume operations at the Route 3 site, the company wrote. Results for a separate poll conducted by Polco did not include totals but did indicate that 74 percent of respondents support bringing back Canadian ferry service to Bar Harbor.

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