Bar Harbor, Maine council votes unanimously for 5-year CAT lease

The CAT ferry is pictured in a handout after completing sea trials on June 2. The controversial ferry starts its inaugural summer sailing season on Wednesday. Bay Ferries Ltd.

Bay Ferries Ltd., has cleared one more step in its quest to move its high-speed ferry service’s American port from Portland, Maine to Bar Harbor, Maine.

The Bar Harbor Town Council voted 7-0 to approve a five-year lease with Bay Ferries and make the town of 5,000 the new American home of the ferry — better known as the CAT.

Cornell Knight, Bar Harbor’s town manager, says the town is currently waiting for Bay Ferries to finish its due diligence before both parties sign the lease.

READ MORE: N.S. knew about million-dollar commitments to shift CAT service to Bar Harbor since June

A potential move of the CAT has been in the works for at least a year, according to Bay Ferries. But a move means Nova Scotia taxpayers will likely shoulder the burden of any transition to Bar Harbor, with some preliminary estimates pegging the cost to be at least US$4 million.

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Although Bay Ferries operates independently of the Nova Scotia government, the company receives a $10-million annual subsidy from the province as part of a 10-year agreement to restart the service in 2016.

As Global News reported earlier this month, the provincial government has known about a series of potential million-dollar commitments associated with the move since at least June.

The commitments include a US$1-million guarantee of Bay Ferries’ five-year lease of the Bar Harbor ferry terminal as well as a US$3-million commitment towards upgrades and improvements at the terminal.

Those expenses would be in addition to the $10-million annual subsidy.

A spokesperson for Bay Ferries declined to comment on the town’s decision but directed Global News to a press release distributed last week that offered limited details on a potential move.

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A spokesperson for the Nova Scotia transportation department was also non-committal on the potential move.

“The decision by Bar Harbor’s council is one step in the process but we are encouraged with the progress to date,” said Marla MacInnis in an email.

“Any final decision and financial commitment is subject to the Province’s approval and will require an amended service agreement.”

READ MORE: Bay Ferries set to move the CAT’s American port to Bar Harbor, Maine

The government says they’re currently working with US customs, Bar Harbor and Bay Ferries to understand what is needed in the move.

MacInnis says the province has hired Bruce Tuck, vice president of Eastpoint Engineering Ltd., to provide a third-party analysis of potential costs to the province.