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Minister says Yarmouth ferry won’t run if it puts Nova Scotians at risk

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. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Nova Scotia’s transportation minister says the Yarmouth ferry won’t run this summer if it puts Nova Scotians at risk of contracting the novel coronavirus.

Lloyd Hines said on Thursday that he wants to ensure Nova Scotians will remain safe if the ferry between Yarmouth, N.S., and Bar Harbor, Maine, launches for its first commercial season.

“I know there’s some anxiety out there that there might be an avenue for (COVID-19) on the ferry and I want to make sure that people understand that door will not be opened,” said Hines.

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

The federal government has closed the border between the U.S. and Canada to non-essential travel until at least June 21.

However, if the border remains closed, Hines said the province is looking at ways to minimize operating costs for the ferry.

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“We’ve asked Bay Ferries to give us an analysis of what the cost would be under different scenarios with regard to when we might be able to sail,” he said.

“We want this service to work. We’re committed to it. It’s pretty self-evident, but we’re not going to do it at the expense of public safety.”

Transportation minister focused on 2020 sailing season for Yarmouth to Maine
Transportation minister focused on 2020 sailing season for Yarmouth to Maine

 

The ferry service, operated by Bay Ferries Ltd. and known as the CAT, 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.

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

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 province spent $17.8 million on the service last year, which includes the subsidy as well as fronting construction costs at the terminal.

The CAT is set to start its season on July 15, despite the challenges and restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.