CRANBERRY ISLES — Some town officials and residents here are concerned about the future of ferry service provided by Beal & Bunker, which runs between the islands and Northeast Harbor.
“We have a lot of concerns about their viability going forward,” Katelyn Damon, the town of Cranberry Isles’ public safety coordinator, told the Mount Desert Harbor Committee on Dec. 20.
Beal & Bunker normally has two boats that can be used, the Sea Queen and the much smaller Double B.
“We’re down to one boat this winter, with the Sea Queen being out of service for a fuel tank, and we’re not sure we’re going to get that boat back,” Damon said.
Joe Flores, co-owner of Beal & Bunker, did not respond to phone and email questions about the status of the Sea Queen and the future of ferry service.
Damon told the Mount Desert Harbor Committee that she wanted to talk with them about possible alternatives to Beal & Bunker, which holds a license from the town to ferry passengers to and from the Cranberry Isles, which includes two islands inhabited year-round.
“We wanted to start a dialog about that ferry company maybe not operating in the future, and what that would mean for us. Our ferries are our lifeline,” she told the Harbor Committee.
She suggested that the boat, Miss Lizzie, which is operated by Downeast Windjammer Cruise Lines, might be allowed to step in “if Beal & Bunker is down for maintenance or the weather is too bad for their smaller boat.”
Miss Lizzie ferries passengers between Bar Harbor and Winter Harbor in the summer. On weekdays, from Oct. 15 to April 30, it provides a federally subsidized commuter service between the Cranberries and Northeast Harbor, with one early morning and one late afternoon round trip.
Mount Desert Harbormaster John Lemoine said that, during the winter, he could authorize the Miss Lizzie to provide additional ferry service to the Cranberries if Beal & Bunker is unable to run.
“But when we get to May and the summer season, that ability is not there,” he said.
Harbor Committee Chair Rick Savage said the town could not allow another boat operator to take over from Beal & Bunker as long as they are abiding by the terms of their license and providing adequate service.
“They have run it pretty well for a long time. For us to change operators, we would have to take away their permit,” he said.
Lemoine agreed: “They would have to give it up or have it taken away from them for reason.
“Right now, they are operating and doing what their license says they can do,” Lemoine said. “So, until they go outside of their commitment to us and to the islands and don’t provide the service, I think our hands are tied.”
Beal & Bunker began operating a ferry service between the Cranberries and Northeast Harbor in 1950. Flores and Paul Hewes have owned and operated the company since 2018.
Damon said she will continue trying to find out from them if and when the Sea Queen will be back in service and what the long-term outlook is for ferry service.
“I have been speaking with Paul quite regularly regarding some of the safety issues they’ve had and some of the downtime for maintenance,” she told the Harbor Committee. “I’m not sure they recognize the severity of the problem and how it would potentially impact the community if they didn’t run.”
Damon said Tuesday that she wouldn’t want Beal & Bunker’s license to be cancelled.
“I’m just concerned about safety on the boats and making sure they are properly maintained,” she said. “And I wanted to communicate with the [Mount Desert] Harbor Committee to make sure they understood about older boats, newer operators and the growing pains of that business.
“I think the boats are relatively safe, and I don’t want to scare anybody,” she told the Islander. “We’re just trying to get ahead of things before it becomes a bigger issue.”