BAR HARBOR – Bay Ferries will be meeting with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) representatives to discuss requirements and costs associated with potentially starting up ferry service in Bar Harbor.
At Bar Harbor town council’s Aug. 7 meeting, it was stated this meeting will happen next week.
Security needs and costs are one of the largest outstanding issues to be explored as part of Bay Ferries’ proposal to switch ports from the Portland to Bar Harbor.
Speaking previously to Bar Harbor town council, Bay Ferries president and CEO Mark MacDonald said the company needs to know what the expectations of USCBP would be and whether they would be affordable or cost-prohibitive.
In a submitted proposal Bay Ferries has indicated that with the support of the Nova Scotia government it will provide an amount, anticipated at $3 million US, for land-side and marine-side facility improvements in Bar Harbor. But the figure has not yet been firmly costed out.
At its Aug. 7 meeting, Bar Harbor town council approved the timeline it will follow as it considers the Bay Ferries proposal.
Bay Ferries has proposed operating ferry service to and from Bar Harbor as early as June 2019. Bay Ferries operated ferry service between Bar Harbor and Maine from 1997 to 2009.
As the company that is contracted by the Nova Scotia government to operate ferry service between Maine and Nova Scotia, Bay Ferries is looking to cut operational costs with a shorter sailing distance and less fuel consumption. The distance from Nova Scotia to Bar Harbor is 106 nautical miles compared to 186 nautical miles to Portland. Bay Ferries is also looking to tap into the tourism market drawn to Bar Harbor annually and has raised concerns that ongoing development on Portland’s waterfront may impact its operations there.
Last month Bar Harbor town council approved a motion for a decision on the Bay Ferries proposal by Oct. 2 – a timeframe Bay Ferries was seeking. At its Aug. 7 meeting council approved a motion to hire a landscape architect to develop a conceptual design for the terminal property showing how municipal parking and an international ferry terminal would co-exist, while also reserving space for future waterfront development. The cost will be $10,000, with Bay Ferries contributing $5,000 of that.
During the Aug. 7 meeting discussion councillor Joe Minutolo expressed concerns surrounding the security requirement unknowns. “I think there are still some real questions that need to be answered,” he said.
Vice-chair Matthew Hochman also voiced concern over the outstanding security questions. But he also said the council approved timeline for gathering information and input will give council the information it needs to make a decision on Oct. 2 – or, he said, to decide that more time is needed.
Minutolo, meanwhile, said in the past couple of weeks he’s had 40 or more residents express concern about how fast things are moving. “I think it’s good that we’re putting some things on the fast track to see if this is viable but taking our time and doing the right thing will pay off in dividends in the future and we really need to do that,” he said, noting council has to keep the multi-use desires of the public for the property in mind.
“I’m not saying that I don’t want Bay Ferries, I want to hear this through. I think potentially it could be a good thing,” he said. But he added council has to make sure its decision reflects what the people want while also taking into account all of the work that went into the decision to purchase the terminal property.
“So possibly if it takes more time than Oct 2, I’m willing to go there,” he said. “I want to make sure all of the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed, and everybody is comfortable before we pull the trigger on this one.”
Councillor Paul Paradis said he doesn’t feel the town is rushing, given discussions that have been ongoing about the terminal property for years. He said an important consideration in purchasing the terminal property has always been the impact on taxpayers. With annual income from Bay Ferries through a five-year lease agreement, he said this would help alleviate some of the financial impact on taxpayers when it comes to the town’s purchase of the property.
Paradis doesn’t see the town having to fork out big dollars because of the Bay Ferries proposal, but he does see other potential uses for the site costing the town and taxpayers. Anything that can help minimize this is worth exploring, he said.