BAR HARBOR – The Maine Department of Transportation (DOT) is backing out of a plan to acquire the former international ferry terminal on Eden Street for use as a cruise ship terminal.
DOT officials recently notified the town of the decision, Town Manager Cornell Knight told a joint meeting of the Town Council and Planning Board Wednesday, but the town may have the option of taking on the project.
The DOT and the Maine Port Authority (MPA) have been working for several years on a lease-purchase agreement with the current owner of the property, Canadian crown corporation Marine Atlantic.
While the MPA has decided not to pursue the purchase option, Knight said, they are willing to sign the three-year lease and then turn it over to the town. The Town Council has the authority to accept the lease if the MPA assigns it, according to the town attorney. They are set to decide at their Dec. 6 meeting.
The MPA would pay the $1 million rent for the three years, Knight said, but the town would be responsible for other expenses, including a submerged land lease from the state, required insurance, and heat and maintenance of the existing small building.
Purchase of the property by the town would require raising another $2.5 million, he said.
“I don’t think anybody should take this personally,” council Chair Paul Paradis said of the state’s decision.
Rep. Brian Hubbell said he was disappointed that the MPA didn’t see a way to go forward with the project, but he is pleased they are willing to support the town and convey the lease.
“My primary concern has always been having public oversight in the development of the project,” he said. “This may represent even a better opportunity for that.”
The DOT had concerns about the plan, questioning whether the project enjoyed enough public support, according to an Oct. 14 letter to town officials from Commissioner David Bernhardt. Deputy Commissioner Jonathan Nass and MPA Director John Henshaw met with the Planning Board Oct. 15 and heard concerns about the plan from residents.
The Planning Board has been at work on a proposed new Shoreland Maritime Activities district for the property, as requested by MPA officials, but the zoning change was not ready in time for the November ballot.
Some uses they considered for the new zone, such as employee housing, are not allowed in the lease agreement, Knight said.