Ferry terminal from 2010 to present

All information included in this piece was pulled from Islander articles written by Rob Levin, Liz Graves and Samuel Shepherd.

June 2010 — A proposed land use ordinance change to create a commercial shoreland zone covering the ferry terminal and a number of adjacent hotels failed at town elections.

A majority of voters approved the change, but it did not meet the super-majority needed because the Planning Board recommended against it.

The change was aimed at bringing the ferry terminal, owned by Canadian Crown corporation Marine Atlantic, into compliance with zoning regulations in case The Cat ferry ever resumed operations here after stopping service in 2009.

Town councilors were concerned that inactivity at the terminal could cause the property to lose its grandfathered status as a ferry terminal, jeopardizing possible future ferry operations.

The Town Council voted to place the article before voters again in November. Three new members of the Planning Board were appointed.

August 2010 — The Planning Board voted 3-1 to recommend the new shoreland zoning.

November 2010 — The creation of the new Shoreland General Development Zoning District IV was supported by residents by a vote of 1,234-345.

Dennis Bracale and other residents brought a lawsuit against the town challenging the zoning changes. The plaintiffs, represented by attorney William Dale, argued some of the changes were inconsistent with the town’s comprehensive plan and residents were not adequately notified of what they were voting on.

March 2011 — Bay Ferries announced that The Cat would not come back to Bar Harbor. Marine Atlantic said they were weighing how best to move forward with the property, which could include selling the terminal.

May 2011 — Councilors took action to support the terminal remaining a functional port. Following an executive session, councilors voted to make Paul Paradis their point person in an effort to transfer ownership of the ferry terminal to “any combination of U.S. and/or Canadian governmental entities.” The move could “ensure that any potential ferry service has a place to land in Bar Harbor,” the motion said.

November 2011 — The Canadian government announced that it was ready to sell the terminal. The town, the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Port Authority jointly commissioned a study from Bermello & Ajamil to see how best to preserve the terminal and whether it would be in their collective interest to try to acquire the facility. The $171,000 cost of this first phase of the study was split by the town, chamber and MPA.

February 2012 — The first phase of the study recommended that the town pursue public ownership of the property.

Councilors voted unanimously to approve funding for a second phase of the study. The first phase found that a cruise ship pier at the terminal, at an estimated cost of $16.7 million, could lead toward a profitable operation.

The Islander reported that officials were “pursuing plans to transform the international ferry terminal on Eden Street into a fully equipped cruise ship berth.”

April 2012 — The board of the Maine Port Authority, which is part of the state Department of Transportation, voted unanimously to pursue a lease agreement with Marine Atlantic. The authority would seek to lease the property with an option to buy it in order to give the town time to continue studying feasibility plans for converting the terminal into a cruise ship pier.

May 2012 — Bermello & Ajamil held a public visioning workshop for the ferry terminal’s future. Potential uses discussed were as a ferry terminal, a public marina and a cruise ship pier. Other uses floated included as an event venue, farmer’s market and parking.

August 2012 — A report from B&A concluded that the best solution was a cruise ship pier. Developing a cruise ship pier on the site, they said, would bring in a major new revenue stream while causing a marked decrease in traffic downtown.

A public marina also was incorporated in the plans. The total cost of the project was estimated at $24.7 million.

January 2013 — The Hancock County Superior Court ruled in the lawsuit brought by Bracale et al. Justice Ann Murray ordered some of changes to the land use ordinance nullified, but the ferry terminal zoning was left intact. She also found that nothing in the zone was inconsistent with mandatory provisions of the town’s comprehensive plan and that the voters found the article creating the zone to be in “basic harmony” with the plan.

April 2013 — The Canadian government told the MPA that it was looking for “fair market value” for the property. Local and state officials had hoped that the Canadians would sell the property for a nominal fee.

The property was assessed by the town for tax purposes at $6,603,500, but town officials said it was difficult to translate that into market value.

August 2013 — The Canadian government ordered construction workers to clean up the ferry terminal property before it was listed on the open market.

Maine’s U.S. Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins, along with Gov. Paul LePage, expressed interest in seeing the state acquire the property.

December 2013 — King and Collins wrote to Canadian Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt asking for a meeting to discuss the potential sale of the property to the state of Maine.

February 2014 through January 2015 — State Rep. Brian Hubbell (D-Bar Harbor) and state Sen. Brian Langley (R-Hancock) introduced bills in the legislature proposing $3-5 million in bond funding to support the Maine Port Authority’s attempts to purchase the terminal. These bills failed in the legislature and never went to voters.

February 2015 — Town Manager Cornell Knight said in a memo to councilors that terms of the ferry terminal sale had been ironed out between Canada and the Maine Port Authority. Knight said the sale was imminent.

July 2015 — LePage and legislators authorized a vote on an $85 million transportation bond that included $3.5 million for purchase of the terminal.

November 2015 — The $85 million transportation bond was approved by voters.

March 2016 — The end of the pier at the ferry terminal caught fire. The blaze, reported to police early in the morning of March 14, damaged wooden decking, pylons and supports. Fire marshals said an unauthorized person was using a fire pit on the pier and left it unattended.

June 2016 — MPA Executive Director John Henshaw told town officials in a memo that the authority and the Maine Department of Transportation were putting the finishing touches on a three-year lease that contained an option for the MDOT to purchase the terminal at any time during the lease.

November 2016 — The MDOT signed the lease agreement for the ferry terminal property. State officials asked the town to rezone the ferry terminal. The Islander reported that the state was looking for assurance from the town that there was enough support for the project to make it a safe investment.

“We don’t go into unwelcome towns with this type of money,” MDOT Deputy Commissioner Jonathan Nass said.

January 2017 — The Bar Harbor Planning Board recommended a new district in the town’s land use ordinance for the ferry terminal. Planning Board members said the new district would give the property flexibility for many uses. The terminal property was split between two districts at the time.

March 2017 — The MDOT purchased the terminal. The purchase price of $3.5 million included $1 million already paid as rent for three years.

Later that month, councilors put the terminal rezoning, article 12, and a citizen initiative on the town meeting warrant.

A citizen petition proposal for zoning at the property, article 13, was introduced. It would have limited the length of cruise ships tying up to a pier and would have inserted the daily passenger cap, currently set by the council on the recommendation of the Cruise Ship Committee, into the LUO so any changes would require a full town meeting vote.

Petition proponents said it would preserve the status quo of larger cruise ships anchoring in the harbor and sending passengers ashore via smaller tender vessels.

May 2017 — Town attorney Ed Bearor issued an opinion that article 12 and article 13 would be in conflict if voters were to approve both.

A purchase agreement was signed between the town and MDOT for $2 million or $2.5 million that required a “maritime use” for the property, depending on the progress of plans for development. The agreement contained a “clawback” clause in case the property was not developed in a way the state finds acceptable.

June 2017 — Voters approved article 12 and voted down article 13.

July 2017 — A tense visioning meeting was held with residents, consultants, town officials and MDOT officials. Residents said they were concerned about the loose definition of “maritime use.”

Shorefront property owners William Ruger and James Blanchard, represented by Dale, filed a lawsuit against the town in an attempt to overturn the June passage of article 12.

August 2017 — The town was offered a no-strings-attached option for purchase of the property for $3.5 million. MDOT representatives said that if the state sold the property for $2 million, the money it had invested in the property would have to go to a “long-term transportation use.”

If the MDOT sold the property for the $3.5 million it paid for it, no restrictions would be needed.

Later that month, councilors approved $53,000 from cruise ship funds to form a ferry terminal property advisory committee, a 40-person committee tasked with studying the best use of the abandoned terminal. Elizabeth Swain was hired to facilitate the “matrix” decision process.

September 2017 — Charles Sidman, head of a new Bar Harbor Residents’ Association, threatened the town with legal action and a boycott of businesses, concerned that article 12 could clear the way for a cruise ship pier.

Later that month, the new advisory committee began its work.

November 2017 — Bay Ferries expressed interest in coming back to Bar Harbor.

Town councilors tried to amend the clawback clause in the purchase agreement. The MDOT did not agree to the amendment.

The advisory committee delivered a recommendation to councilors that said a multiuse maritime facility would better serve the interests of the town than a berthing pier.

The recommendation called for purchasing the property at the no-strings-attached purchase price of $3.5 million to “accommodate a multi-use marine facility with optional tender boat landings from cruise ships.”

Councilors put a $3.5 million bond issue on the June 2018 town meeting warrant for purchase of the ferry terminal. The council forwarded the advisory committee’s report to Bermello & Ajamil, asking the consultants to develop a business plan based on the recommendations.

December 2017 — The Town Council put the bond issue on the June town meeting warrant.

Ruger and Blanchard offered to withdraw their complaint if the Town Council took formal action to say it had abandoned plans to build a pier capable of berthing large cruise ships there.

February 2018 — The Town Council rejected Ruger and Blanchard’s settlement offer, calling it an attempt to blackmail the town.

March 2018 — A new committee was floated to help iron out confusing parts of the process of development of the property. It was initially accepted by councilors but killed at a later meeting.

May 2018 — A representative of Bermello & Ajamil presented the business plan to residents. The report states that the property would not be profitable as a marina unless the facility also accepted cruise ship tenders carrying 40 percent of total cruise ship passengers.

For a history of the ferry terminal from the beginning of international ferry service in the 1950s, see the Oct. 26, 2017, issue of the Islander.


Samuel Shepherd

Samuel Shepherd

Samuel Shepherd is a University of Maine graduate and a former Bar Harbor reporter for the Mount Desert Islander.
Samuel Shepherd

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