Without a regular and routine connection to Mount Desert Island, the viability of the year-round communities on Islesford and Great Cranberry islands would be at great risk.
Earlier in the year, the selectmen voted to appoint a special committee to develop a ferry service request for proposals (RFP).
In May, current ferry operator, Beal and Bunker, announced that their service would cease in October. Following that bombshell, residents of the Cranberry Isles voted for the town to contract with a private operator to provide year-round ferry service between the two islands and Northeast Harbor and Southwest Harbor.
In June, David Bunker, owner of Beal and Bunker, announced that the company would continue to operate year-round. The selectmen agreed that the committee should continue to work, not as the ultimate goal, but “just in case.”
Recently, selectmen have been criticized for not proceeding as directed with the RFP approach, instead continuing with Beal and Bunker for the foreseeable future. Because the situation improved after the May meeting, it is understandable that officials subsequently decided to act with less urgency. But the directive at town meeting was to execute and complete a contract, not merely draft a proposal “just in case.”
That said, it could well be that residents might vote differently were that same question from May to be put before them today.
Having a concrete contract, whether with Beal and Bunker or another operator, provides a vital layer of security for the community. A contract would include a clear timeline for notice of nonrenewal, providing time for the town to find an alternative should an operator decide to suspend service.
Nobody is suggesting that anyone involved is not acting in good faith or beyond the dictates of common sense. But once a vote of the people has sent the town in a definitive direction, it is the voters, and only the voters, who should determine whether or not a new course is warranted.
Any change in direction from the vote taken in May should come from action at another town meeting.