The story of the year

Belle Hatfield
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Ferry dominated news in 2013

By Belle Hatfield
For residents of southwestern Nova Scotia, 2013 will go down as the year of anticipation. Would the province find a ferry partner? What would happen to the seemingly abandoned ferry terminal in Yarmouth? Would a ferry service return? Could it be done in time for 2014?




By year’s end the region was closer to seeing resumption of a ferry service than its been since the NDP unceremoniously pulled the plug on its subsidy to Bay Ferries in 2009. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the region is on target to throw a party on May 1to welcome passengers disembarking from STM-Quest’s Nova Star cruise ship as it starts its scheduled service between Portland, Maine and Yarmouth.

 There is a signed operating agreement between the province and the joint venture partners that formed STM-Quest. The joint venture company has a signed charter agreement for the vessel, Nova Star. The Yarmouth ferry terminal is now in local hands and the federal government has pledged to pay up to 80 per cent of the costs to refurbish the facility. The new vessel is in the hands of International Shipping Partners (ISP), the company that will deliver the ferry’s passenger-service experience.

At the beginning of 2013 the region was awaiting results of the provincial government’s request for proposals for a ferry service based on the promise of $21 million in provincial funds over seven years to the proponent who could meet the province’s criteria.

The province had put the money on the table after a panel found in September 2012 that a cruise ferry service could be viable under the right circumstances.

Want to know just how far we’ve come in a year? We’ve prepared a look back at the milestones as reported by the Vanguard.

 Jan. 24 -- The first request for ferry proposals (RFP) closed on Thursday, Jan. 24. There were two proposals.

March 5 -- Neither ferry proposals under consideration for a Yarmouth to Maine service met the minimum qualifications needed to secure the province’s approval.

One of the proponents, Quest Navigation's president and CEO, Mark Amundsen, said in a statement released after the announcement, "Quest Navigation remains confident that our business plan ... is the best option."

April 17 – The provincial government contributed $1 million towards the efforts of a team of local community, tourism and business leaders that formed to improve and promote the tourism experience in southwestern Nova Scotia.

Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood was named chair of the tourism team. The team was to begin work immediately, and its mandate extends to the end of August 2014.

April 17 -- The province set Thursday, June 20, as the new tentative deadline for receiving formal proposals from a second RFP process to find an operator interested in establishing a Yarmouth to New England ferry service.

Representatives from the Nova Scotia International Ferry partnership and the province of Nova Scotia were in Europe at an international conference, Shippax. They were sporting a newly minted prospectus outlining the opportunities available for ferry operators to establish a Yarmouth-based ferry service. The back-to-the-drawing-board document allowed ferry operators to kick the tires, so to speak, before investing the time and money needed to develop a formal proposal.

June 25 -- The federal government announced that it would invest in a replacement vessel for the federally-owned MV Princess of Acadia that sails between Digby and Saint John.

The announcement was made by Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence who said a replacement vessel would provide certainty in the future of this ferry service for its users.

June 25 -- On the same day that the people of Digby received word of a new ferry to replace the aging Princess of Acadia, the province’s economic development minister Graham Steele was urging Yarmouth residents not to give up hope that soon their ship might also come in, even as the deadline for the RFP process was extended.

July 4 -- The second request for ferry service proposals closed. The deadline had been extended beyond June 21, to allow companies more time to prepare their bids.

The province's request for proposals netted three companies interested in operating a ferry between Yarmouth and Maine -- P&O Ferries of England, Balearia Caribbean Ltd., based in Miami, and STM Quest, a Maine-based joint venture partnership.

July 30 – Maine governor Paul LePage wrote to Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter saying that the New England state would welcome re-establishment of a Yarmouth-to-Maine ferry service, calling it a “vital service and economic driver.” The governor declared his support for one of the three bidders in the process, STM Quest, a Maine-based company.

Aug. 13 – The province announces that STM/Quest received top marks for its bid to operate a ferry between Yarmouth and Maine. Graham Steele, minister of economic and rural development and tourism, told the standing-room-only crowd packed into the Argyle Room at Rodd’s Grand Hotel that after evaluating the committee's recommendations, the government would begin negotiations. He hoped they would lead to an operating agreement within three weeks.

Sept 5 -- The province of Nova Scotia announced that it had reached an agreement in principle with STM Quest Inc. to operate a cruise ferry between Yarmouth and Portland, Maine.

Economic and Rural Development and Tourism Minister Graham Steele made the announcement in Yarmouth. He cautioned that there were still a lot of conditions that needed to be met in order for the service to be operating in 2014, but he expressed confidence that the deadlines and conditions could be met.

Oct. 8 – The Liberal Party swept to victory in the general election. Support for the ferry was a plank in the Liberal party’s campaign platform. On Oct. 9, Premier-designate Stephen McNeil told the Vanguard getting a signed deal would be among the new government’s first priorities.

Nov. 13 -- The province and STM Quest Inc. signed the operating agreement to support a new cruise ferry in Yarmouth, targeted to begin in May 2014. The province said there was a lot of work to be done on the part of the ferry company leading up to the projected May 2014 start-up.

Dec. 6 – The Yarmouth ferry terminal was transferred to local control at a ceremony with West Nova MP Greg Kerr at the Water Street property. In November Kerr promised the federal government would contribute up to 80 per cent of the costs of refurbishing the ferry terminal.

Dec. 11 – STM Quest released fare information for Nova Star Cruises, starting from $79 USD for one-way walk-on passengers. One-way for autos start at $129 depending on the season.




Organizations: STM-Quest, International Shipping Partners, NDP Bay Ferries Nova Scotia International Ferry National Defence Grand Hotel Liberal Party Nova Star Cruises

Geographic location: Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Portland, Maine New England Digby Europe Saint John Caribbean Miami Water Street

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