October 23, 2019
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The window for ferry service from Bar Harbor to Canada this year is shrinking fast

Bill Trotter | BDN
Bill Trotter | BDN
Construction equipment and materials sit at the ferry terminal on Route 3 in Bar Harbor on the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. Bay Ferries, which is leasing the property from the town, has been trying to renovate the site for the past 3 months so it can offer ferry service across the Gulf of Maine to Canada, but the chance of getting the seasonal service going this year is fading as the work drags on into the fall.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — Time is running out for Bay Ferries Ltd. to finish work on the local ferry terminal if it hopes to offer service across the Gulf of Maine this year.

The Canadian firm had hoped to carry passengers on The Cat ferry between Bar Harbor and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, earlier this summer but has postponed its planned start date multiple times as work on renovating the idle facility has dragged on.

As of Tuesday, a significant amount of work had yet to be completed at the Route 3 facility, which has been dormant since 2009, the most recent year that the international ferry service operated from Bar Harbor.

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On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Bay Ferries said that the company was not making any more predictions about when the work might be done or when ferry service might begin. She said the company has decided to focus solely on finishing renovations and then getting U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which will screen passengers arriving from Canada, to sign off on the completed work.

“Everyone’s focus is on getting the work completed and approved,” Rhonda Latter, Bay Ferries’ director of corporate services, said in an email. “Obviously we hope there is the opportunity for some service this season but don’t wish to raise expectations.”

Though the service has been operated by different companies and from different locations in Maine over the past decade-plus, it has been strictly seasonal, typically running from late May until mid-October. The ferry’s final trip of 2018 from Portland to Nova Scotia was Oct. 8, while the reservations page on the company’s website (which is not accepting bookings) suggests that Oct. 15 would be the final date of operations for 2019.

Cornell Knight, town manager for Bar Harbor, said Tuesday that even if the ferry does not carry any passengers this year, the town still is guaranteed a minimum of $166,000 in rental payments from Bay Ferries for 2019. The company’s five-year lease for the town-owned site follows Bar Harbor’s fiscal year, from July 1 through June 30, so the town expects it would get additional revenue from the firm prior to June 30, 2020, he said.

The lease guarantees minimum payments totaling $1 million over the five-year term of the agreement, with higher payments to the town possible depending on the volume of passengers and vehicles the ferry carries.

Knight said Bay Ferries has been doing what it can to get the town-owned terminal site renovated as quickly as possible. He said work specifications required by Customs and Border Protection have caused the work to take longer than expected.

“I know they’d like to get some runs in” this fall, Knight said.

A message left Wednesday for a spokesman Customs and Border Protection at its office in Houlton, which oversees the agency’s operations throughout Maine, was not returned.

Earlier this year, Bar Harbor purchased the 7-acre parcel for $3.5 million from the state, which had acquired it from the Canadian government in 2017. Bay Ferries is renovating and renting only part of the site, while the town is considering options such as satellite parking or a public boat ramp and marina for the rest of it.

The cost of renovating the terminal facility, which is being subsidized by the Nova Scotia provincial government, has been estimated at $6.4 million in U.S. currency or $8.5 million in Canadian funds.

 



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