CRANBERRY ISLES — Voters at a special town meeting here Saturday will be asked to authorize the Board of Selectmen to negotiate with anyone they deem appropriate for the provision of year-round ferry service between the islands and both Northeast Harbor and Southwest Harbor.
The meeting is set for 9 a.m. at the Great Cranberry Island Congregational Church.
Voters also will be asked to authorize the selectmen to borrow up to $40,000 for a consultant to help develop a plan for long-term ferry service and to “do any and all things necessary to award and enter into necessary contracts on behalf of the town.”
Any agreement for ferry service that town officials might negotiate would be subject to voter approval at a future town meeting.
The Beal & Bunker ferry service, which has carried passengers, freight and mail between the islands and Northeast Harbor since 1952, is for sale, and town officials want to make sure their water link to Mount Desert Island is maintained.
In April 2014, the selectmen created a transportation task force to look at the existing level of service and options for improvement. One possibility they have considered is having the town set up a nonprofit corporation to own a ferry service and hire a private individual or company to operate it.
Beal & Bunker owner David Bunker told a Cranberry Isles selectman earlier this year that he hoped to be out of the business by November. That prompted town officials to look at options for making temporary arrangements for ferry service this winter, while also making long-range plans. But Bunker has since said he would not leave the town without ferry service.
Ron Axelrod, chairman of the transportation task force, said Bunker recently told town officials that once he obtains an appraisal of the value of his boats and the ferry business, he would entertain purchase offers, including from the town. Bunker did not respond to the Islander’s request for comment.
Axelrod said the task force would like to have a proposed arrangement for long-term ferry service to present to voters at the annual town meeting in March.
“But if it takes a little bit longer, that’s OK,” he said. “We need to do this thoroughly and methodically.”
Charles Norris, a water transportation consultant, has been working with the task force and will continue to do so, Axelrod said. But he said the majority of money the town likely will need to spend over the next few months would be for legal services.
“There’s a lot of legal work, and Charlie’s fees are a lot less than the lawyers’,” he said.
Axelrod said the town might be able to obtain grants to offset some of those costs. But voters are being asked to authorize the town to borrow up to $40,000 just in case it’s needed.
Steve Pagels, who operates the seasonal Cranberry Cove ferry service between Southwest Harbor and the Cranberry Isles, said last week that he would be open to talking with town officials about the possibility of providing year-round service that also includes Northeast Harbor.