BAR HARBOR — Maine voters approved the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) proposed bond issue at the polls Tuesday. The $85 million bond package includes funds for the purchase of the former ferry terminal here.
A large majority of Bar Harbor voters supported the question, with 924 “yes” votes and 120 “no.” Town Clerk Pat Gray reported turnout was about 25 percent, with 1,064 of the town’s 4,209 registered voters casting absentee or regular ballots.
“It’s good news,” Town Council Chairman Paul Paradis, who has been involved with the Maine Port Authority’s (MPA) efforts to acquire the terminal, said Wednesday. He said he wasn’t surprised by the vote, because transportation bonds usually enjoy wide support.
In February, councilors approved funds for a business feasibility study to be conducted by Bermello, Ajamil and Associates (B&A). The study was requested by MPA, which has been in talks with the current owner of the property, Canadian Crown corporation Marine Atlantic, on a lease purchase agreement.
The ultimate aim is to construct a pier that can accommodate some of the 140 cruise ships that visit Bar Harbor annually. Passengers and crew currently must use smaller tender vessels to get ashore.
Retaining the possibility of using the property for any future ferry service to Canada remains among the goals.
“Without the bond, they were still going to lease the property and look for other means to ultimately buy it,” Paradis said. Now that the bond issue has been approved, “I’m not sure that there will be closing on a purchase any faster – that’s a MPA decision.”
Coincidentally, consultants with B&A already had planned to arrive in town next week to begin work on the study. The delay from February approval of the study had nothing to do with the bond vote, Paradis said, but came at the request of the MPA and DOT. “They wanted to make sure they had a viable deal on the table before investing in the study,” Paradis said.
In the 12-week study beginning next week, B&A proposes to identify possible maritime and non-maritime uses for the property. MPA would need to collect rental income from those uses. The study is to provide more specific business and market opportunities, specific cash flow needs and projections, 5-year capital and operations budgets, a 36-month operational budget and evaluations of different operating models.