BAR HARBOR — A curveball came at the committee charged with weighing potential future uses of the ferry terminal property last week when Bay Ferries, former operator of ferry service from Bar Harbor to Nova Scotia, declared its interest in resuming service.
“As part of our imperative to make the Nova Scotia-Maine ferry service as successful and sustainable as possible for the taxpayers of Nova Scotia and the people of Maine, we are also examining a possible alternative of resuming ferry service to Bar Harbor,” Bay Ferries CEO Mark McDonald wrote in an email to the committee and other town officials.
“[We] wish to formally advise your committee that we are doing so,” he continued. “We know Bar Harbor and feel that its future has great potential. We are also very pleased to see that the town is giving consideration to future use of the iconic ferry terminal property.”
McDonald joined the committee meeting via conference call Tuesday. Committee Chair Ruth Eveland said the timing of the announcement was odd, coming as it did near the 11th hour of the committee’s timeline for their work.
McDonald said Bay Ferries wanted to be fully informed before making a formal declaration of its intent.
“We didn’t even want to approach the committee until we had a handle on what might be required [at the property],” McDonald said. “We’ve looked at the work required [and] the cost of the work, and that remains within reason.”
McDonald stressed that all the plans discussed are strictly preliminary. One area of uncertainty in the timeline of international ferry service, he said, would be the requirements of United States Customs and Border Protection.
“There are some very major issues around [CBP] facilities,” he said. “They have modern, state-of-the-art requirements for international facilities like this.”
When asked if his company would end ferry service to Portland in favor of service in Bar Harbor or conduct service between the two ports, McDonald said that the company is reviewing its options.
“We’re always looking to find the right model,” he said. “All consideration is on the table at this point.”
McDonald did not explicitly say whether the company would pitch in for required improvements.
“We’ve embarked on the assumption that the town would not have a lot of capital in the short term,” he said. “There has been no specific discussion around our financial involvement.”
A concept drawing of a ramp to offload cars and passengers from the stern of the ferry was presented as a simpler approach than rebuilding the dilapidated pier. The 190-foot-long ramp would connect to the existing driveway.
Parking, an omnipresent issue in Bar Harbor, was also raised by council member Anna Durand. McDonald said the company would like 200 spots for the ferry’s capacity for cars and around 75 overnight spots. He added that the ferry would not operate in the winter or carry heavy trucks.
McDonald said that his company had not considered a scenario in which the town of Bar Harbor does not buy the property.