June 7, 2019 10:52 am
Updated: June 7, 2019 1:15 pm

Yarmouth to Maine ferry service delayed until at least ‘mid-summer’

The CAT, a high-speed passenger ferry, prepares to depart Yarmouth, N.S. heading to Portland, Maine on its first scheduled trip on Wednesday, June 15, 2016.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
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The Yarmouth-to-Maine ferry will not sail until at least mid-summer due to construction delays at the Bar Harbor terminal.

Bay Ferries Ltd. announced the delay in a release on Friday, and said all reservations for the CAT ferry prior to July 7 will be cancelled.

CEO Mark MacDonald says at this point it’s difficult to say exactly when the CAT will sail to Bar Harbor for the first time.

“We intentionally aren’t projecting a specific date for the obvious reason, the process is ongoing,” he said.

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“We’re pushing very hard to have things complete and to a point that we can start the service as quickly as possible.”

The ferry operator says there are a number of reasons for the delay, most significantly the ‚Äúcomplexity of the construction and approvals process associated with the renovation of the Bar Harbor ferry terminal.”¬†Other factors are cited, including the U.S. government shutdown and delays in the terminal land transfer process.

MacDonald says the construction of the marine side of the project is on time but there are delays on land, where the company is involved in building a ferry terminal that will house U.S. Customs and Border Patrol facilities.

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

MacDonald says bookings for the early part of the season were trending close to where they had been last year. In 2018, the CAT carried 6,701 passengers between Yarmouth and Portland, Maine, in June. That number rose to 18,366 passengers by August.

Acting Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan says because the ridership on the ferry traditionally starts smaller in June and July, the delay isn’t critical for the service’s survival.

“But it becomes about what the impact is of a delay if it delays further, if there’s an impact around ridership because of the delay,” he said. “So it’s the bigger issues, as opposed to just these couple of weeks, for the stakeholders in the tourism sector in southern Nova Scotia.”

MacDonald says his greatest concern with the delay is for the company’s partners.

“In the community, in the tourism industry, in the municipalities, our employees, and in the province as a whole,” MacDonald said. “So we as a company, we never want to let down any of those groups and we don’t want to disappoint. On the other hand, we’re only human and can’t perform miracles sometimes.”

MacDonald says the company was “measured” in its marketing of the service in Bar Harbor this year.

“We’ve kept up a good level of marketing but not overdone it, and been cautious on several major initiatives that we otherwise would have considered until we have pretty good certainly around timeframe,” MacDonald said.

“Because last thing we would want is a major marketing push and then for the business that we’ve generated from that to to be lost because of the startup delay.

READ MORE: June passenger count for CAT ferry shrinks by 13 per cent compared to 2017

In March, the Nova Scotia government announced it would cover $8.5 million in construction and renovation costs at the ferry terminal, which is owned by the Town of Bar Harbor.

The funding announcement cleared the way for the return of the ferry service, which was supposed to begin June 21.

MacLellan says it’s disappointing that there is yet another disruption in the service.

“I know we’ve got the right vessel, the right operator, the right partner stateside, but just the fact that we can’t seem to catch a break and get a stable run in terms of the service operating for an entire season, it’s really, really difficult,” he said.

MacLellan says Bay Ferries won’t be penalized for the delay financially.

READ MORE: N.S. blasted for paying $8.5 million for U.S. ferry terminal renovations

MacDonald maintains the move from Portland to Bar Harbor is a move toward stability.

“We’ve always treated this as a long term play,” MacDonald said. “That’s why we’re going to Bar Harbor in the first place.”

Passengers who had booked passage on the ferry up to July 7 this year will be re-routed to MV Fundy Rose if they choose. That’s the company’s ferry service between Digby, N.S., and Saint John, N.B.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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