BAR HARBOR – Following last week’s vote approving a town purchase of the former ferry terminal on Eden Street, the company currently operating ferry service between Maine and Nova Scotia has reaffirmed its interest in returning international ferry service here.
Town officials received a letter of intent from Bay Ferries chairman Mark MacDonald on Tuesday regarding a potential return to the ferry terminal property.
“As we have outlined in our discussions with the Town’s consultants, we are excited about the prospects of returning ferry service to Bar Harbor if that is the Town’s wish,” MacDonald wrote.
“In the present circumstance, we believe that return of the ferry service can provide a stable and significant source of revenue to the Town from the ferry terminal property during the Town’s initial ownership of the property and while the Town is settling its long-term plans for use of the property.”
Tuesday that Bay Ferries plans to submit a proposal for using the ferry terminal property next month, Town Manager Cornell Knight told councilors. He said company officials have mentioned a five-year lease and a $3.5 million investment in infrastructure on the property.
“We are proposing a limited footprint, low impact ferry operation which we feel can be exceedingly beneficial to the Town, and provide an important bridge to your longterm plans,” MacDonald wrote.
He said the lease would be fully backed by the province of Nova Scotia.
Councilor Paul Paradis said he was eager to see if their proposal fits with the town’s vision for the property.
“If we can get anything [else] going there in five years, I’ll be surprised,” he said. “I would encourage Bay Ferries to come forward with a proposal. I’m hopeful that it does make sense.”
Councilor Matt Hochman said he worried about the town being on the hook for further spending if the company underestimated how much it would cost to make the facility usable again. The company would not have control of the full site, he said.
Councilor Joe Minutolo, as he has done at public meetings prior to being elected as a councilor this month, urged town officials to seek grants for development of the property. Knight said reviewing the Bay Ferries proposal would be necessary before applying for grants because it would be difficult to proceed without a basic plan for the property.
“I think Bay Ferries can help as leverage,” Knight said. “Before you apply for grants, you have to know what’s going in and how much money you’re putting in.”
Town councilors also spoke about hiring another consulting firm for the property.
Chair Gary Friedmann floated using $60,000 in budgets reserves for the terminal to hire a project manager. Minutolo and councilor Judie Noonan mentioned cutting ties with Miami-based Bermello and Ajamil (B&A), longtime marine-industry consultants, in favor of a Maine-based consultant.
“I think it’s worth a look to entertain the idea of looking at some fresh eyes that can identify with us more,” Minutolo said. “I do worry about being with a huge company.”
Councilor Erin Cough supported sticking with B&A because the project could be so costly for the town and a large company would have better resources and experience.
“I’ve never launched a multi-million business that will make 5,000 people pay for it,” she said. “I think we need a consultant who has done this and who has done this in every place in every size. It’s not something we can hire someone to do locally, this is biggest than that.”
Friedmann suggested putting out a request for qualifications from any interested parties.
The only action taken at this meeting was suggested by Paradis. The council unanimously approved a motion to ask the committee that reviewed the B&A business plan for their advice on a path going forward. That group included Knight, Harbormaster Charlie Phippen, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Martha Searchfield, Town Finance Director Stan Harmon, resident Tom Crikelair and B&A representatives.
“My motion does not hire them or provide a path forward for them,” he said. “Let’s ask these folks what their suggested path forward is.”