By Tina Comeau
The request for ferry proposals (RFP) closes on Thursday, Jan. 24, but the chair of the Nova Scotia International Ferry Partnership says beyond that date there is still a lot of water to churn through.
“The RFP process doesn’t end it,” says Keith Condon, about the process of trying to get ferry service back running between Yarmouth and Maine.
What it will do is signify if there are qualified companies and people out there that the government can start to negotiate with to explore the ins and outs of their ferry service proposals and to determine where and how people would use start-up funds that could be available to them.
“The RFP is to identify qualified operators,” says Condon. “This is not an RFP for the service, it’s to find qualified people to make sure they can do the job before they allow them to share some of the start-up funds.”
Condon says the RFP may or may not shed light on potential qualified operators, but because the RFP required a $50,000 bond, it’ll help to weed out those who aren’t serious.
Condon adds once the RFP process is over, if there are other companies that didn’t have time to respond but are still interested, they will be spoken to.
“And if there is nobody in the RFP that is capable, in the government’s eyes of what they want to see as a long-term partner, then there are other opportunities that will come forward that we as the Nova Scotia International Ferry Partnership will help them with,” Condon said.
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“We've talked with quite a few operators and there is a lot of interest.”
In saying that, however, Condon said the process itself remains a complicated one.
The province issued an RFP last month. This followed the province asking a panel to review studies on a ferry service between Yarmouth and the United States. That panel concluded a cruise-ferry service could be viable in the long term under the right conditions.
The province has said it is prepared to commit as much as $21 million over seven years to attract a long-term cruise ferry service in Yarmouth, run by a qualified operator, if certain conditions are met.
To meet the conditions for the province's support package, the operator will need to present a plan that shows a ferry service will be profitable within seven years and reflects the winning conditions set out by the panel.
“In the meantime we’ve hired somebody to take over the transition process with the federal government for the terminal, and that includes building a new terminal,” Condon said in an interview with the Vanguard last Thursday. “So that’s underway at the same time.”
Asked if 2013 is still in the ballpark when it comes to ferry service, Condon says it hasn't been ruled out.
“The objective here is try and capture some of the 2013 season, even if it’s just a startup, even if it’s just a sail up the harbour to get the marketing done for next year, that’s the objective,” he said.