Nova Scotia remains ‘committed’ to moving CAT ferry to Bar Harbor, Maine

The CAT, a high-speed passenger ferry, departs Yarmouth, N.S. heading to Portland, Maine on its first scheduled trip on Wednesday, June 15, 2016.
The CAT, a high-speed passenger ferry, departs Yarmouth, N.S. heading to Portland, Maine on its first scheduled trip on Wednesday, June 15, 2016. Andrew Vaughan/ The Canadian Press

The provincial government remains “committed” to moving a Nova Scotia high-speed ferry port in the United States from Portland, Maine to Bar Harbor, Maine in time for the 2019 sailing season.

The options available to the Nova Scotia government are limited, after the option to extend the lease between the City of Portland and Bay Ferries Ltd. — the owner of the high-speed ferry known as the CAT — expired on Dec. 31.

Bay Ferries was originally supposed to notify the City of Portland about whether they planned to stay in Portland in October, but was granted a series of extensions that pushed that notification until the end of the year.

Now the service is left without a home as negotiations between Bay Ferries Ltd., the Town of Bar Harbor and the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) drag on.

“Our partner Bay Ferries and the Town of Bar Harbor are confident that the transfer of the terminal property will be settled shortly, enabling Bay Ferries to enter into a lease with the town for the property,” said Marla MacInnis, a spokesperson for the province’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, in an email on Tuesday.

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Bay Ferries did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

READ MORE: Plans to move CAT Ferry to Bar Harbor in jeopardy over demands by U.S. Border Patrol

Nova Scotia and Bay Ferries have had a close relationship after the province inked a 10-year deal with the company to operate the ferry service between Yarmouth, N.S., and Portland, Maine, back in 2016.

Although Bay Ferries operates independently, it receives an annual operating subsidy of approximately $10 million from the province of Nova Scotia.

The provincial subsidy for the 2018 sailing season was projected to be $10.9 million.

Provincial taxpayers, however, will contribute additional funds for the move to Bar Harbor, a town of 5,000. As Global News reported in October, the province has made a series of million-dollar commitments associated with the move.

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

But the move — which Bay Ferries says has been in the works for at least a year — is in jeopardy as a series of demands from CBP have stymied efforts by parties on either side of the border to close the deal.

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A long list of demands

A letter written by Matthew Hladik, the CBP director for the area, addressed to the Bar Harbor Town Council and dated Dec. 11, details at least some of the concerns the border service has.

According to Hladik, CBP currently provides service in Bar Harbor for 50 days a year by deploying officers from Bangor, Maine, when cruise ships visit the area.

But the planned arrival of the CAT service means that they’d need to provide service 120 days a year and hire an additional five to seven officers to operate a newly-refurbished international ferry terminal that would be up to CBP standards.

“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.

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As a result, the customs agency is asking Bay Ferries to enter into an agreement that would see them foot the bill for refurbishing the terminal, as well as the salaries of the five to seven new employees.

CBP is also asking Bay Ferries to cover costs associated with bringing the vacant ferry terminal up to their standards.

“The current facility in Bar Harbor will need to be completely renovated,” Hladik wrote in the letter.

“There are a number of safety and security issues that must be resolved.”

READ MORE: Privacy ombudsman recommends Nova Scotia disclose fees paid for CAT ferry service

It’s been determined that asbestos is present in the current facility and would need to be abated, while CBP says extensive water damage and new security requirements require a redesign of the facility.

CBP says they haven’t been provided with any documents that would indicate plans have been developed by Bay Ferries — an issue which they say limits the company’s options.

“The design and construction of a facility of this size generally takes 12 to 18 months to complete,” Hladik wrote.

“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.”

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Despite CBP’s concerns, Cornell Knight, the town manager for Bar Harbor, says that Bay Ferries told him that the work on the site and the building can be done in time for the 2019 sailing season.

But with an option to return to Portland out of the picture, Nova Scotia is banking on a deal that can be agreed to and upgrades that can be completed by June.

The department did not respond to questions regarding a potential scenario where the CAT did not have a home for the 2019 season.