PORTLAND — Bay Ferries is momentarily without a U.S. port, as one lease has expired and another is not ready to be signed.
Bay Ferries’ lease with the city of Portland expired on Dec. 31, according to The Vanguard newspaper of New Brunswick. Bay Ferries President and CEO Mark MacDonald said in an interview with the newspaper, “Our company had an option to continue for the 2019 season in Portland, which was subject to mutual agreement of the parties. That option expired on Dec. 31.”
MacDonald indicated his company’s interest in running the international ferry service from Bar Harbor.
“There is always uncertainty and there will be challenges, but Bar Harbor is the future, and it is best for the ferry service if the future begins now,” MacDonald told The Vanguard. “The town of Bar Harbor has placed great faith in our company. We look forward to working with them, as we do our other partners on both sides.”
That said, Bar Harbor town officials are keeping track of the many details to work out before Bay Ferries’ American affiliate, Atlantic Fleet, can enter into a five-year lease agreement with Bar Harbor.
According to town manager Cornell Knight, there is no set closing date for the town’s purchase of the Eden Street ferry terminal property from the state. The original closing date was Nov. 30, but that was delayed when then-Governor Paul LePage refused to sign off on the closing documents without a change in the wording. The town’s attorney recommended against accepting the change.
Now with Governor Janet Mills in office, Knight said he has contacted the Maine Department of Transportation, the seller, to ask for a closing date by the end of the month.
“I have not heard back yet,” Knight said.
Knight also said that negotiations between Bay Ferries and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have been delayed because of the partial government shutdown, which began on Dec. 22.
“The shutdown is causing problems with reaching officials at CBP,” he said.
Knight attended a meeting on Dec. 13 between Bay Ferries and CBP officials. The meeting, held at the CBP offices in Portland, was attended by interested parties in the ferry service Bay Ferries plan to provide from the Bar Harbor ferry terminal. That service is due to start in June. At that meeting, no agreement was reached about how much the cost of staffing customs officials would fall on the ferry service.
Last June, Bar Harbor voters authorized the purchase of the ferry terminal from the Maine Department of Transportation for $3.5 million. In October, the town council voted to enter a five-year lease agreement which would allow Bay Ferries to offer an international ferry service between Bar Harbor and Yarmouth, N.S.