BAR HARBOR – The town’s role in Maine’s economy and international relations were among the points of contention Wednesday in a public comment session about a proposal to return the Maine – Nova Scotia ferry to Bar Harbor beginning next year.
The town council scheduled the public comment session to help with their consideration of whether or not to accept Bay Ferries’ proposal for a five-year lease of a portion of the Eden Street property the town is purchasing from the state. The council and the company are set to decide by early October.
“I feel as though we’re being held hostage,” resident Barbara Fenderson said. “There is not a definite plan. It’s a complicated job. We could and should be given more time.”
“International cooperation is good for our town, and state and and nation,” said resident Tom Crikelair, who has been advising Town Manager Cornell Knight on the project.
“The service would begin next spring. Bay Ferries and Portland both want to end the current arrangement. Should we ask the town of Yarmouth to wait a year?”
If the town asked for more time to decide, he said it would be like contemplating a patient in intensive care and saying, “Let’s let him die and see next year if we can bring him back to life.”
Resident Bo Greene argued, “Nobody is in the intensive care unit. It’s not my job to save these guys if their business isn’t working. It’s not life or death for you, it’s business.”
Bay Ferries CEO Mark MacDonald presented a summary of the proposal for a 5-year lease on a portion of the property. The ferry would run daily from late May through mid-October and would be in Bar Harbor from about 12 – 3 p.m. each day.The company proposes to pay the town a combination of fixed and variable rents, with a minimum guarantee of $200,000 per year, and cover costs associated with getting facilities up to standards required by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Many residents expressed concern about whether the Coast Guard would impose a large security zone, limiting activity along the waterfront and out into the water around the ferry’s dock.
MacDonald said the company he had met with the Coast Guard and had assurances a large zone interfering with other uses the town envisions for the property would not be a problem, but commenters urged the council to get something on the issue in writing.
Ellen Grover was among the commenters who cited “too many unanswered questions” in the plan. “It’s almost farcical,” she said. “This is sort of a no-lose opportunity for [Bay Ferries].” She warned about “bringing more people in here without even thinking of the repercussions.”
Resident Anna Durand proposed the community process that became the Ferry Terminal Property Advisory Committee last year. She said Wednesday that some of the opposition to the Bay Ferries proposal may stem from frustration over timing of the company’s initial letter to the town expressing interest in returning, which arrived near the end of the committee’s intensive two-month process.
“It’s reasonable to say we need to take more time,” she said. “And it’s also reasonable to say that we need to start bringing in revenue now” to pay for debt service and any future development.
“But you should be able to trust the people you need to compromise with,” and trust among factions on this issue is very thin, she said.
She asked Knight whether a lease agreement could include a “kill clause” that would void the lease if the Coast Guard imposes a security zone for the ferry operation that was inconsistent with the town’s needs for a marina and public water access.
“I don’t see why not,” Knight said.
“What we don’t have is something to say yes or no in comparison to,” said Val Peacock, who served on the advisory committee. A former assistant harbormaster for the town, she said she discussed potential uses for the site with friends who are fishermen here. One of them, she said, wouldn’t use the marina for his own boat but would use a boat launch if one were available there.
Lobsterman and former Harbor Committee chair Jon Carter got up to say that he and every fisherman he has talked to about the issue support the return of the ferry. “We take it on the chin worse with yachts than we do with cruise ships and ferry boats,” he said. “My boat has become a ‘security zone’ several times by tenders bumping into it.”
Resident Peggy Richardson said she supports the plan. Her father was the port agent for the Bluenoseferry for many years, she said, and he is also enthusiastic about return of an international ferry to Bar Harbor. “Previous speakers have claimed to speak for the community” when expressing opposition to the Bay Ferries plan, she said, “but I am also a member of the community.”
She and resident Pat Kilbride both expressed enthusiasm that the ferry would offer a good, local job for qualified U.S. mariners, including local Maine Maritime Academy graduates. While Bay Ferries’ catering employees on the ferry are Nova Scotia residents, MacDonald said, the CAT is a U.S. flagged vessel and all marine crew are “U.S. resident qualified seafarers.”
Dessa Dancy questioned whether a parking so close to the shore was allowable under state zoning laws.
Michael Good said he thought that with the right plantings, the public space by the ferry terminal could be a good spot for migrating shore birds. He also asked the town council to “be better negotiators for us.”
Landscape architect Sam Coplon presented possible plans of what the space could look like as a multi-use site. He showed a design in which Bay Ferries operation took up roughly a third of the area. There were more than 200 parking spots, and a public park area with access to the waterfront. “This could be the High Line of Bar Harbor,” he said, referencing a popular park in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood.
Liz Graves contributed to this story.