YARMOUTH, NS – Things haven’t been moving as quickly as hoped as Bay Ferries looks to make the switch to Bar Harbor as its U.S. port for the next season of The Cat ferry.
But the ferry operator is still carrying out work to be as ready as it can be for when all of the necessary components fall into place.
One thing that has stretched out the process is the partial government shutdown in the United States.
“The shutdown is impacting various areas including U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) and U.S. Coast Guard and various approvals and agreements, which are required,” said Mark MacDonald, president and CEO of Bay Ferries. Workers at both agencies have been furloughed during the shutdown. The shutdown did come to an end on Jan. 25, although President Donald Trump has said he may shut the government down again on Feb. 15 if a fair deal for border security cannot be reached.
The five-year lease with the Town of Bar Harbor has also not yet been signed. This stems from a delay the town has been experiencing in finalizing its $3.5-million purchase agreement with the State of Maine for the property.
The Jan. 31 closing date, which was already an extension, has been in place. The Mount Desert Islander newspaper in Maine reported on Wednesday that councillors were told at Bar Harbor council’s last meeting that it was hoped the sale could be finalized by the end of the month, however there was also talk of pursuing an extension if needed.
Bay Ferries, with permission from the Maine Department of Transportation, has started some work on the terminal property. Several outside buildings and the existing customs plaza area are being demolished. MacDonald said it will be necessary to rebuild the customs plaza area, various work to the pier, partial reconfiguration of the interior of the terminal building and the installation of various customs equipment and technology.
He said equipment owned by the province of Nova Scotia, which had been purchased for Portland customs upgrades will be used in Bar Harbor.
Asked if there a limit as to how much work Bay Ferries can carry out before the town of Bar Harbor owns the facility, MacDonald said, “No, but we’re satisfied that the town will take ownership shortly.”
When Bay Ferries first approached the town of Bar Harbor about moving its operations, MacDonald said it would cost around US$3 million to bring the terminal facility and property up to the standards needed to operate the Maine-to-Nova Scotia ferry service. This week he said, “We are not providing cost estimates as we are, and will be, at the bidding stage for various work parcels.”
Asked earlier in January about when the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal would be budgeting how much money it will be investing in the ferry service for 2019 — in particular the Bar Harbor terminal work — department spokesperson Marla MacInnis said: “Bay Ferries has been working with several engineering and architectural firms on the required renovations. We have hired a third-party consultant to review the proposal and subsequent costs. At this stage, although substantial engineering/design work is completed, construction has not yet begun and the final costs aren’t yet known.”
The USCBP has requested that Bay Ferries cover the cost of additional customs and border protection staff it will need in Bar Harbor. Nova Scotia’s transportation minister Lloyd Hines recently told reporters covering the salaries could be part of the cost of doing business.
Asked about Hines’ assessment, MacDonald said, “We would be making a contribution to the cost of obtaining customs and immigration service at Bar Harbor.”
For the past three years Bay Ferries operated The Cat service to and from Portland, but the company let that lease expire at the end of December.
Asked if any of the ongoing delays being experienced could cause a delay to the start of the season, or even prevent it from going ahead this year, MacDonald said, “We're certainly making every effort to start when planned.”
He said the company is anticipating that marketing and promotion of The Cat’s ferry season will begin around mid-February.
Asked what excites Bay Ferries most about the switch to Bar Harbor, MacDonald said, “The stability of a long-term home where we can focus on marketing the service and driving passenger volumes.”
Last year the Cat transported 50,185 passengers to and from Nova Scotia.