The town of Bar Harbor is delaying its purchase of an idle Canadian ferry terminal because the state is trying to attach conditions to the deed — conditions the town did not agree to when it signed an agreement in September to buy the property from the Maine Department of Transportation, according to a town official.
Cornell Knight, Bar Harbor’s town manager, said town officials have been told by the state’s attorney in the transaction that the administration of Gov. Paul LePage wants to amend the deed. The town is in the process of acquiring the property from the state, which it hoped to complete by the end of this month.
“At the last minute, they are trying to pull strings,” Knight said of the state.
Knight said the clause that the state now wants to attach to the deed says: “Any subsequent use of, improvement to, or construction on the premises is subject to all applicable laws, regulations, ordinances, and permitting requirements, including municipal zoning requirements in effect on the date of conveyance.”
The concern is that by agreeing to the attached clause, any future amendments to the town’s land use zoning ordinance would not be applicable to the ferry property because the deed would make the town’s current zoning requirements permanent and unchangeable for the property, according to the town manager. He said the town may decide to delay the closing until after LePage leaves office in early January, so it can then proceed with the closing with the administration of Gov.-elect Janet Mills.
Gary Friedmann, chairman of the Bar Harbor Town Council, said Thursday he cannot figure out why the state has come up with a last-minute attempt to put restrictions on the deed.
“I wish I could understand the governor, but I can’t offer any insights,” Friedmann said.
LePage spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said the current administration is on board with completing the sale of the property after the end of the year. She did not say why LePage wants to add conditions to the deed.
“The delay in closing on the property until January of 2019 has been agreed to by all parties involved, including Governor LePage and Maine DOT Commissioner [David] Bernhardt,” Rabinowitz said Thursday in an email. “Maine DOT continues to work with the town of Bar Harbor to finalize details that allows [Bay Ferries] access to the facility to start improvement work prior to January of 2019.”
Last month, the town offered to lease the property to Bay Ferries, which hopes to use it for its ferry service between Nova Scotia and Maine. Canadian ferries operated seasonally between the Bar Harbor site and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia from 1956 through 2009, when Bay Ferries pulled the plug on the service. Ferry service between Maine and Nova Scotia has operated out of Portland since 2014.
Knight said that, when the town and state first started negotiations on transferring ownership of the property, which the state acquired last year from the Canadian firm Marine Atlantic, the state offered the town two options. It could buy the property, with conditions attached, for a lower price, or it could purchase the property for a higher price with no conditions attached.
The town opted to pay the higher price — $3.5 million instead of $2.5 million — in order to avoid any development restrictions (aside from existing shorefront development rules) for the property, Knight said.
Knight said he is not sure why the state is trying to amend the deed. The town’s intent, he said, is to continue to use the 4.5-acre property for public and marine-related purposes, which in addition to the Canadian ferry service could include parking or a marina.
Knight said that Bay Ferries has been keeping in touch with the state and the town throughout the sale process, and still is evaluating the town’s offer. Bay Ferries has said that it likely will aim to begin ferry service from the site to Nova Scotia sometime next summer.