BAR HARBOR — The CAT ferry linking travel from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, to Bar Harbor will not operate during the 2021 season due to the pandemic.
Bay Ferries Ltd., the Nova Scotia-based company that operates the CAT, had hoped to resume travel from Bar Harbor three years ago, after spending the last 10 years sailing from Portland.
After losing the 2019 season for failing to get the ferry terminal renovated and approved by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the company eyed a 2020 start, but that didn’t happen due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision was made on Monday by Canadian officials who said they do not expect the country’s border to open to non-essential travel anytime soon.
Bay Ferries leases a portion of the Bar Harbor terminal property from the town under a five-year agreement that guarantees minimum rent and provides for additional payments tied to ticket revenue. Also, under the agreement, revenue from overnight parking for ferry passengers also goes to the town.
While the work on the Bar Harbor ferry terminal is now complete, the border between the U.S. and Canada remains closed to unrestricted, nonessential travel, which, according to Pam Mood, the mayor of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, is not expected to change in the foreseeable future. The terminal’s final commissioning cannot take place until the month before their scheduled start of service.
“It is absolutely the right decision. The health and safety of our citizens is the most important thing as we continue to maneuver our way through the pandemic,” said Mood in a prepared statement on Monday.
Chairman and CEO of Bay Ferries, Mark MacDonald, said he feels this decision, made with Nova Scotia officials, is an obvious setback for the ferry service, but agrees that it’s for the best. “The loss of the ferry has significant economic impact on both sides, because the industry is much larger on the Maine side, the proportionate impact is not as large,” he said.
“The province of Nova Scotia remains very supportive of the service, and similar challenges are being faced by most transportation modes involving the carriage of passengers,” he said in Monday’s letter to Maine Governor Janet Mills.
Nova Scotia Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister Lloyd Hines said the decision, based on consultations with Bay Ferries, was a disappointing one to make. “Given the ongoing uncertainty, it is really the only choice we have. We must keep Nova Scotians safe,” he said.
MacDonald explained that an earlier cancellation gives more certainty to the tourism industry and communities that the CAT supports as well as enables the company to save money. Once life returns to normal, he said there are very good prospects for the service. “We believe that our company and province could consider resumption of operations in that situation, but the province intentionally does not want to be raising hopes at this time,” he said, adding that Nova Scotia is committed to the ferry service in the long term.
The CAT will lift suspensions when circumstances allow but it remains docked in Charleston, S.C., for now.