December 19, 2018
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Bar Harbor opts for The Cat ferry over local cruise line

Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Bar Harbor Town Council member Paul Paradis, seen here in February, made the motion to pass on the proposal from Downeast Windjammer Cruise Lines.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — Town leaders have rejected without discussion a proposal from a Maine company to run a ferry service at a town-owned property off Route 3.

Citing the proposal’s lack of details, the town council voted 6-0 Tuesday to dismiss Downeast Windjammer Cruise Lines’ proposal to run a car ferry service between Maine and Nova Scotia. Council Chairman Gary Friedmann was absent.

The former ferry terminal is a key part of plans to reduce downtown traffic by allowing more recreation boats and parking to relocate there from the harbor. Under the town plan, the terminal would become a multi-use marina. Residents voted in June to buy it for $3.5 million.

[Maine company wants a chance at Bar Harbor-Canada ferry service]

The council instead proceeded with planning for another ferry operation, Bay Ferries Ltd., to move onto the site. Bay Ferries is known as the operator of The Cat ― a high-speed catamaran ferry service between Portland and Nova Scotia.

Downeast Windjammer owner Steve Pagels called the council’s vote “disappointing.”

By not allowing him a place at the terminal, councilors have essentially voided their own goal of making the facility multi-use, Pagels said.

Downeast had proposed paying the town $2.75 million over 10 years to run a vehicle ferry to Nova Scotia, but its plan lacks specifics, according to Town Manager Cornell Knight.

[Return of The Cat to Bar Harbor expected to end Canadian ferry service in Portland]

Knight said in a report that Windjammers’ plan failed to show how the company would have the facility ready to open next summer.

“The debt costs would be on the taxpayer,” Knight wrote.

The proposal doesn’t say how Windjammers would renovate the site, and relying on federal or state grant money to fund the rebuild “would certainly delay the start,” Knight wrote.

With Councilor Erin Cough opposing, the council voted 5-1 to follow Knight’s recommendation and hire a landscaper, Coplon Associates of Bar Harbor, for $10,000 to work with Bay Ferries to develop a site concept plan.

[Bar Harbor voters OK buying ferry terminal, adding parking meters]

Cough said she disliked how councilors were proceeding with plans without soliciting competing bids for jobs the council needs done.

Bay Ferries, which operates a high-speed catamaran between Portland and Nova Scotia, proposes to pay the town at least $1 million overall for a five-year lease at the site.

The 5-1 vote also approved a timeline that includes a Sept. 4 council meeting on the terminal’s progress, a public forum Sept. 5 and a vote on whether to finalize a deal with Bay Ferries on Oct. 2.

If all goes well, the town would close the deal with Bay Ferries and the state in November, according to the timeline.

Pagels said the town should proceed cautiously. His firm, which seasonally runs sailing cruises in and around Bar Harbor as well as local passenger ferries in Hancock and Washington counties, pays its own way.

As Bay Ferries has acknowledged, that company relies to some degree on Canadian subsidies, Pagels said.

“There is one thing in common that all the previous ferries have and the current ferry they are negotiating with,” Pagels said. “They all ceased to operate.”

BDN Writer Bill Trotter contributed to this report.

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