Cat ferry’s move to Bar Harbor challenged by staffing issues, cleanup of terminal

Plans to change the Maine port from Portland to Bar Harbor for the 2019 season of the Yarmouth, N.S., ferry have hit another snag, this time because of staffing issues and extensive remediation work needed to clean up polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and asbestos at the Bar Harbor terminal.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection official wrote a letter to Bar Harbor town council this month discussing the situation.

“Given that the ferry season typically begins in June, and sufficient funds for the project have yet to be identified, we feel that the facility presents a notable challenge to beginning international ferry service in Bar Harbor in 2019,” wrote area port director Matthew Hladik.

U.S. customs is asking the operator of the ferry route, Bay Ferries, to agree to enter into an agreement to pay for five to seven additional employees.

“There are no additional staffing resources available in the area to support a new service request of the magnitude of the international ferry,” Hladik wrote.

In July, Bay Ferries CEO Mark MacDonald said early estimates pegged the Bar Harbor terminal work at about $4 million Cdn, money that he is asking the Nova Scotia government to cover.

The terminal in Bar Harbor, Maine, has been vacant since 2010. (Submitted by Cornell Knight)

MacDonald could not be reached for comment for this story.

This summer, Bar Harbor residents voted in favour of council authorizing the purchase of the ferry terminal from the Maine Department of Transportation at a cost of $3.5 million US ($4.76 million Cdn).

In the fall, Bar Harbor’s council entered into a five-year lease agreement that would allow for a ferry service to run to Nova Scotia. The purchase of the ferry terminal property was supposed to close Nov. 30, but that still hasn’t happened. An extension has been given by the state of Maine to the end of January.

“The governor would not sign the deed as it was written in the purchase and sale agreement,” said Cornell Knight, the town manager for Bar Harbor. “He wanted some additional language and we wouldn’t agree to that.”

Knight said the terminal has been abandoned for nine years, but remediation work should be able to be completed in time for the ferry service to launch next year.

‘This is one of those bumps’

If the latest developments in Maine force the shutdown of the ferry next summer, it would be disastrous for the town of Yarmouth and the many tourism operations in the southwestern part of the province.

“There are always bumps along the road to making a move or any change,” said Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood. “Basically, this is one of those bumps and we are sure it will all smooth over in the long run.”

A spokesperson for Nova Scotia’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal said the department has been in talks with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, but can’t talk publicly about those discussions.

Bay Ferries ended its 2018 season run between Yarmouth and Portland on Oct. 8 with a total of 50,185 passengers, up 21 per cent from 2017.

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