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Yarmouth-Maine ferry to launch season on July 15 despite COVID-19

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 CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

The ferry between Yarmouth, N.S., and Bar Harbor, Maine, is set to begin its season on July 15 despite the challenges and restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ferry service, operated by Bay Ferries Ltd. and known as the CAT, will not be operating daily crossings when the season is scheduled to begin.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia’s operating grant for Maine ferry reaches new high at $16.3M for 2020 season

Instead, the CAT will carry out crossings on Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays in July. The opening week will see the ferry operate on a modified schedule of Wednesday and Friday.

In August, the CAT will carry out crossings every day except Wednesdays.

But even the preliminary schedule is subject to change.

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Premier Stephen McNeil told media on Thursday that COVID-19 restrictions from the federal government on cross-border transport will make for a challenging season.

“There are certainly going to be impacts. To what extent? I’m not sure at this point,” he said.

Click to play video 'Transportation minister focused on 2020 sailing season for Yarmouth to Maine' Transportation minister focused on 2020 sailing season for Yarmouth to Maine
Transportation minister focused on 2020 sailing season for Yarmouth to Maine – Oct 1, 2019

Lloyd Hines, minister of transportation and infrastructure renewal, went even further, saying that the province will look to incorporate a wide range of views — including those of Nova Scotia’s public health officials, the federal government and its partners in Maine — to determine when it’s safe to resume service.

“It’s extremely important to our communities that we serve,” said Hines.

“They must be assured that the service resumes in a way that is protective and that these communities are ready to welcome visitors.”

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The service is heavily subsidized by the province as part of a 10-year deal inked in 2016.

At $16.3 million, the subsidy for the upcoming season is expected to be the highest single-year subsidy for the service since the deal began.

READ MORE: Idled Nova Scotia to Maine ferry cost province extra $4M in 2019

The service has been described as a boon for tourism and the economy of rural Nova Scotia.

But the service has received its share of criticism, and the Nova Scotia government has yet to conduct an economic impact assessment that would provide details on what effects, if any, the service has had in rural Nova Scotia.

The service’s first commercial crossing to Bar Harbor has faced repeated setbacks.

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Bay Ferries CEO faces questions over Bar Harbor service at Nova Scotia legislature – Mar 27, 2019

The ferry sat idle last year, as there were no commercial crossings during what was supposed to be the inaugural season sailing to Bar Harbor.

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But the move was plagued by delays as U.S. Customs and Border Protection ordered renovations to the Bar Harbor terminal building before it would put agents in place to process ferry passengers.

The renovations at the terminal include the demolition of existing buildings outside the terminal’s customs area as well as several outbuildings and portions of the ferry terminal’s interior.

Hines said the Bar Harbor terminal should be ready to go by the time crossing begins.