Letter to the Editor: Pig in a poke

To the Editor:

Having seen the proposed lease negotiated by our town manager between the Town of Bar Harbor and Atlantic Fleet Services Corporation, I trust that the Bar Harbor Town Council will study this document carefully because it contains a number of unexpected elements.

First, many of us thought that the town would be offered a contract with Bay Ferries; it turns out that was a misconception, as the proposed contract is being issued instead by an agent for Bay Ferries. What are the implications of this change? For example, does this mean that if Atlantic Fleet Services, our newly proposed partner, were to have serious financial difficulties, even a bankruptcy, that their substitution as Bar Harbor’s partner would provide a firewall of protection for the Province of Nova Scotia?

Second, we should be concerned about the derelict condition of the ferry terminal site vacated and abandoned by Marine Atlantic/Bay Ferries in 2009. Regarding that, when Mr. Paul LaFleche, Deputy Minister of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal in Nova Scotia, was questioned about the fitness of the Bar Harbor Ferry terminal in March of 2016, he responded that, “Bar Harbor is not ready…..it is rather derelict, it requires somewhere between $5 million and $10 million — who knows if that’s a real figure or it’s much more than that.”

Because the reconstruction costs of the site are uncertain, in addition to the concern that abandonment could occur again, would it be wise to have Bay Ferries/Atlantic establish an escrow account in case the ferry terminal site is once again vacated and left in similar condition?

Furthermore, Bay Ferries’ early July document addressed to the town includes the following quote: “Bay/Province would make capital investment in shore-side and marine-side facilities in an amount anticipated to be US $3 million.”

Less than three months later, the early October proposed lease discloses that Bay Ferries/Atlantic Fleet Services will construct and rehabilitate only what it needs to operate their own ferry service, and that all of the equipment they install will continue to belong to them and may be removed by them if and when they leave. (“Tenant shall have the right to remove any equipment and fixtures installed by it within the Marine Operations Zone within a reasonable time after the termination of the lease.”)

Furthermore, BF will have an exclusive right to use several areas on the site, including the Customs Operations Area and certain areas of the Terminal Building. (Incidentally, what is the size of the security zone and where will the security fences be placed?) At the Oct. 2 Town Council meeting, the owner of Atlantic Fleet Services stated that she would not disclose the size of this area.

Other issues that need to be addressed include Bay Ferry’s wildly improbable predicted passenger numbers of 60,000 the first year, 70,000 the following year, and 80,000 in the third season. These estimates are far larger than the ridership actually experienced by the CAT during their three most recent seasons (2016, 2017, and 2018) in Portland as well as during the final years (2008 and 2009) of the CAT’s operation in Bar Harbor.

The old expression “a pig in a poke” comes to mind, as well as its definition, which denotes something whose true value is concealed or unknown and may be lower than expected by the receiver and claimed by the seller.

We need to be alert because these significant changes could lead our town to make the poorest choice possible for the terminal site which will soon belong to us. Who would pay $3.5 million for a piece of property and then lease it for $200,000 per year, particularly when it will cost the town $5-to-$10 million or more to restore it? The amount of revenue from Bay Ferries for the entire five-year lease, namely a total of $1 million, could end up funding only one-tenth of the expense for cleaning up the site abandoned in 2009 and allowed to devolve into its present derelict condition by the very same Bay Ferries Limited which seeks to partner with us again.

Let’s all support our town councilors in examining this proposed contract very slowly and carefully. The process should involve every citizen of the town who wishes to participate.

Anne Marie V. Quin, Bar Harbor

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