CRANBERRY ISLES — Beal & Bunker will continue to provide year-round ferry service between the Cranberry Isles and Northeast Harbor after all.
“After a great deal of thought and research …, Beal & Bunker has determined that it is in the best interest of not only Beal & Bunker but also the town [of Cranberry Isles] to continue year-round operations as has been done for more than 65 years,” company owner David Bunker said in a June 29 letter to the Cranberry Isles selectmen.
Just over a week earlier, on June 20, he sent a letter to the selectmen saying he was considering two options for the business: “Stop operation of the ferry service on October 11, 2016 and resume operation on or about May 1, 2017” or “Sell the entire business.”
Beal & Bunker has ferried passengers, mail and supplies to the Cranberries since 1952. It picks up and drops off passengers at Islesford, Great Cranberry Island and, on request, Sutton Island.
Bunker has said for more than a year that he wants to sell the ferry operation and retire. He expressed a preference for selling to the town, and some town officials and others expressed an interest in that possibility.
But residents at a special town meeting May 14 rejected the idea of the town buying and operating a ferry service. Instead, they voted 33-3 to have the town contract with a private, for-profit operator to provide year-round service.
However, a few days after that vote, Bunker said he intended to continue running the ferry, but only between May 1 and Columbus Day each year. That raised the prospect of no ferry service during the winter, because it is profitable only in the summer.
However, David Bunker’s son, James, confirmed Tuesday that Beal & Bunker’s year-round ferry service will continue and that he is now running the company.
Following the May 14 Cranberry Isles town meeting vote, a town committee began developing a request for proposals (RFP) to send to prospective ferry operators.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Richard Beal said Monday that he thinks the RFP process should continue, even though Beal & Bunker currently plans to continue with its year-round service to Northeast Harbor.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “The unknown scares the hell out of me right now because Beal & Bunker has made the point to the town … that they can’t make any money in the wintertime. That’s been known for some time.”
Beal said that if, during the winter or at some other time, Beal & Bunker decides to stop running, “We should have something in our hip pocket in the form of an RFP to reach out and see if there are other options. In my mind, there are just too many unknowns.”
Beal added, however, “I’ve known James [Bunker] since he was 13. He’s a very, very capable young man.” He is now 33.
One ongoing, reliable source of year-round income for Beal & Bunker is its contract with the U.S. Postal Service to transport mail to the Cranberry Isles. The company recently agreed to a renewal of the contract, which it has had for decades.