BAR HARBOR, N.S.– Bay Ferries is keeping an eye on a “snag” that has necessitated a delay in the process of officially making a final decision on where The Cat ferry will sail to and from next year.
The ferry company is looking to move from the port of Portland to the port of Bar Harbor.
The town of Bar Harbor has been in the process of purchasing the ferry terminal property, voting earlier this year to do so. Bar Harbor’s town manager Cornell Knight first reported to Bar Harbor town council in late November that Governor Paul LePage was refusing to sign the deed for the town’s purchase of the former ferry terminal property unless there is a slight change to wording of a section contained in the document.
“We're satisfied it's a delay only,” said Mark MacDonald, president and CEO of Bay Ferries when asked for comment.
Bay Ferries is eyeing the terminal property as a potential port to sail the Cat ferry in and out of starting next season, feeling the move will save the company money due to a shorter sailing distance that will also allow it to tap into what it feels is a robust tourism market.
In September the town of Bar Harbor signed a purchase and sale agreement with the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) to purchase the terminal property for $3.5 million. The understanding then was the town would purchase the property with no further strings attached from MDOT.
Knight reported to Bar Harbor council on Nov. 28 that at that time both sides had agreed to the agreement. But now there is some disagreement.
“The week before last the outside counsel preparing the documents for closing contacted our attorney and said there’s been a snag with the deed and he needed to talk to our attorney about agreeing to the language,” Knight told council at a Nov. 28 meeting.
He said the governor’s office is asking that the language in a particular passage of the deed be changed to include the words “including municipal zoning requirements in effect on the date of this conveyance.” Knight said the town’s attorney isn't sure why the change is required or what impact the language could have in the future.
As a result the closing date for the purchase of the property has been extended. Instead of Nov. 30, the closing date will now be on or before Jan. 31, 2019.
“We’ll work on getting that resolved,” said Knight.
Contacted after council had held another meeting on Dec. 4, Knight said there was no change from what had been previously reported to council with one exception, “No change . . . except that the MDOT granted permission for Bay Ferries to start minor work on the property before the town owns it.”
Knight had told council that the ferry operator, which sails to and from Yarmouth, wanted to be able to start some work, at their own risk, on the property before the town owns it.
In October, Bar Harbor town council voted unanimously to authorize its town manager to sign a five-year lease that would allow Bay Ferries to sail The Cat ferry to and from Bar Harbor starting in the spring of 2019. But the town cannot sign that lease until its purchase of the terminal property has been completed.
Council appeared taken aback by this “snag” from the state as things seemed to be smooth sailing on the purchase agreement front.
“I was kind of stunned that the governor would kind of throw this wrench into the works at this late date, but it’s not out of line with what the governor has been known to do,” said Bar Harbor council chair Gary Friedmann at a recent council meeting. “This was our only course of action, to basically extend the closing until there’s a new governor.”
“I think the biggest issue now is it does make it more difficult for Bay Ferries,” he said.
Bay Ferries has not yet indicated its finalized plans for the 2019 season to the city Portland where it has operated for the past three years. Last year was its most successful season yet as it transported 50,185 passengers.
Initially Bay Ferries was going to give its decision to the city of Portland by Nov. 15.
Jessica Grondin, a spokesperson for the city, said the deadline for Bay Ferries had been moved back to Nov. 30 and has now been extended to Dec. 31.
“We're continuing with very intensive engineering work and sorting out regulatory issues,” said Mark MacDonald last week. “So we felt that the prudent step was to extend the Portland deadline. We have been working collaboratively with the City of Portland and the Town of Bar Harbor throughout.”