BAR HARBOR — Officials at nearly every level of government continue to scramble to get all the pieces in place for ferry service to Yarmouth to begin as soon as possible, but ferry company Bay Ferries announced last week that reservations for trips up to and including July 18 will be cancelled.
The CAT ferry was in Bar Harbor June 27. According to Atlantic Fleet Services, the local agent for Canadian ferry company Bay Ferries, the boat was only here for a quick stop and will not be staying long.
According to Town Manager Cornell Knight, the company is making payments to the town according to the lease agreement.
The delay, Knight said, “could cost us some revenue that we might gain above the minimum yearly amount of $200,000,” since the lease agreement requires the company a per-unit fee in addition to the base rent. Per-unit fees are $2 per passenger, $3 per vehicle and $20 per bus in U.S. dollars.
“We look forward them starting service next month and reestablishing an international connection with Yarmouth, Nova Scotia,” said Knight.
Bay Ferries initially planned to begin service on the CAT ferry from Bar Harbor beginning June 21. In early June, the company announced that the service wouldn’t begin until “midsummer,” and cancelled reservations up to July 7.
Gary Andrea, a spokesman for the Nova Scotia Department of Business, told the Islander that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has not yet issued a permit for the terminal facility here.
The Province of Nova Scotia has hired David Wilkins, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada, to lobby CBP and, they hope, speed up the process, Andrea said. “Mr. Wilkins’ expertise and knowledge of the U.S. government will be extremely valuable in supporting Nova Scotia’s work on this.
“The Nova Scotia government is committed to the Yarmouth to Bar Harbor ferry service,” he continued. “All parties remain committed to working hard to meet the challenges and timelines of this unique project.”
CBP has said for months that the timeline for getting the new facility approved and up and running was very tight.
“The design and construction of a facility of this size generally takes 12 to 18 months to complete,” Matthew Hladik, CBP’s Area Port Director in Portland, wrote to Bar Harbor officials in December.
CBP spokesperson Michael McCarthy reiterated that argument this week, noting that “the 12 to 18 month timeline for this project began when the Bar Harbor property was acquired” by the town on Jan. 31.
“CBP will not set the start date for the ferry,” McCarthy told the Islander. “However, service cannot begin until CBP is provided by a compliant facility.”
McCarthy continued, “CBP understands the economic importance of the ferry service to the town of Bar Harbor, the state of Maine, and the nation. As a result, this project has been a top facility priority [of] our project management team since its inception. However, there is still much work to do.”
Ferry terminal renovations are expected to cost $8.5 million in Canadian dollars (CAD), according to a press release issued in March from the government of Nova Scotia. This projection is $3.5 million CAD more than earlier estimates.
Bay Ferries operated an international Bar Harbor-Yarmouth ferry service between 1997 and 2009. Prior to that, the Bluenose Ferry operated an international ferry service dating back to 1956.
Last June, Bar Harbor voters authorized the purchase of the ferry terminal from the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) for $3.5 million USD. The town closed on the purchase of the property Jan. 31.