Motorists on Route 3 have noticed activity at the ferry terminal here, which has been undergoing renovations for more than a year, picking up again in the last few weeks. The Cat ferry is expected to begin service to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia June 26. ISLANDER PHOTO BY LIZ GRAVES

New goal set for ferry start

BAR HARBOR — The ferry company planning to resume service between Bar Harbor and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, announced Friday that tickets are on sale for 2020 trips and the first sailing is set for June 26. That’s about a year later than the originally planned start date for the service.

Bay Ferries took reservations for trips in 2019, but the start date was moved back several times due to delays in the construction and permitting process for the ferry terminal facility, which the ferry company leases from the town of Bar Harbor. In mid-July, Bay Ferries stopped taking reservations for 2019 and offered refunds.

The ramp that will be used for vehicles to enter and exit the ferry was moved from Portland last summer. The Cat ferry made a brief visit to test the fit and town officials were invited aboard.

But work on the shore side of the terminal facility is still in progress. The redesign and reconstruction of the facility requires approval from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, since passengers and vehicles arriving on the ferry must clear customs.

“CBP will not set the start date for the ferry,” Michael McCarthy, a spokesman for the agency, told the Islander in June of last year. “However, service cannot begin until CBP is provided a compliant facility.”

That is not yet a completely done deal.

The town’s Planning Board approved the site plan for the renovated facility submitted by Atlantic Fleet Services, Bay Ferries’ local agent, in February of last year. A building permit was issued in June.

But when CBP reviewed the plans, the agency required several minor changes.

Town Planner Michele Gagnon said she has met with Bay Ferries representatives twice about those changes, which will be submitted as a minor modification to the site plan.

The formal request for a modification has not yet been submitted.

“If they stick to the changes that they have discussed with us, it would not have to go to the Planning Board,” she said. But such a modification usually takes about 30 days from submittal to approval, including a 10-day period for abutters to weigh in on the changes.

“The approvals process is ongoing,” Bay Ferries Chairman and CEO Mark MacDonald said. “We are confident that our project plan, which includes the further required approvals and which we have discussed in detail with US CBP, can be successfully executed.”


Another challenge for starting up the ferry service here has been the number of CBP officers required for inspection operations.

Matthew Hladik, the CBP area port director in Portland, discussed the staffing needs in a December 2018 letter to then-Town Council Chair Gary Friedmann.

“When the ferry arrives and is processed in Portland, all available CBP officers assist with ferry processing, essentially halting all other inspectional activities until ferry processing is complete,” he wrote.

The CBP team based in Bangor serves Bangor, Bar Harbor, Belfast and Rockland. It’s also smaller than the Portland team, he said.

Already, Hladik wrote, on the days when a foreign cruise ship arrives in Bar Harbor, it takes all available officers from Bangor to provide that service, and for a large ship it takes them all day, from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. It wouldn’t be possible for the same officers to serve the ferry and a cruise ship on the same day.

Bay Ferries has agreed to cover the costs associated with the need for additional officers under what’s known as a Reimbursable Services Program.

“The necessary initial arrangements are in place and can be activated at the appropriate time,” MacDonald said.

McCarthy confirmed this week that Atlantic Fleet Services was selected in May 2019 to enter into an agreement under that program.

Town’s plans

Bay Ferries leases a portion of the ferry terminal property from the town, under a five-year agreement that guarantees minimum rent and provides for additional payments tied to ticket revenue.

Revenue from overnight parking for ferry passengers will also go to the town.

“As part of the lease we said we’d reserve a number of spaces” outside the leased area, Town Manager Cornell Knight said, for ferry passengers.

“It needs to be reclaimed, or ground up, because the cracks are so big,” Knight said. Town officials are working with Bay Ferries to schedule that work and avoid disrupting other operations on the property.

The budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 includes $8,000 in parking revenue from Bay Ferries, and an allocation for the paving and other necessary work on the non-leased portion of the site.

The town’s Harbor Committee is working on planning for other future uses of the property, and has formed subcommittees for a marina, working waterfront uses and cruise tendering.

For now, Knight said, the town is planning to only do the base paving and perhaps install underground electrical conduit. But it will be done in a way that “will not be contradictory to the landscape plan” prepared by Coplon Associates in 2018.



Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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