Parts of the International ferry terminal in Bar Harbor, Maine remain under construction but the main terminal is ready to go, the Nova Scotia government confirmed to Global News on Wednesday.
The terminal is meant to serve as the American port-of-call for the Yarmouth-Maine ferry, the heavily-subsidized service that links the province with Maine.
But the ferry has not had a commercial sailing since the high-speed catamaran moved its American port from Portland to Bar Harbor in 2019.
In 2019, work at the terminal forced the ferry operator, Bay Ferries Ltd., to cancel and delay bookings several times 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.
Ultimately the season was cancelled in July 2019.
Since then, 2020 has been plagued by concerns over the spread of COVID-19. Ultimately, the province and Bay Ferries cancelled sailings in June.
PC Leader Tim Houston called out the province on Wednesday in an email statement, saying that recent photographs suggested the terminal was not ready for the service.
“COVID-19 pandemic or not, it doesn’t look like the terminal was ever going to meet the government’s newest timeline, years after the first promised date,” said Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative leader Tim Houston.
“Remarkably, based on what we’ve seen, it’s not even ready as of today.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Nova Scotia’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal said the main terminal is “operation ready” and that the secondary inspection building is near completion.
“If the border was open and we had been able to sail, that building would have been ready. It will be ready for next season,” Gary Andrea said.
“When it became known that service would not operate this year, final construction on several items such as the secondary building was slowed down.”
Andrea said with the season suspended there has been additional time to spread work through the summer.
But that hasn’t stopped criticism from the province’s Official Opposition.
“Our tourism industry is hurting. It’s infuriating to know that taxpayers are paying millions for a ferry that doesn’t sail, isn’t helping generate activity while other tourism operators struggle,” said Houston in a statement.
“It’s mismanagement at its worst.”
Operation of the Yarmouth-Maine ferry, also known as the CAT ferry, is part of a 10-year deal inked between the Charlottetown-based Bay Ferries Ltd., and the provincial government in 2016.
The province has footed the bill for repairs and upgrades for the ferry since the deal was signed.
In 2019, the province spent $17.8 million on the idled service. Approximately $8.5 million of that was for upgrading the terminal in Bar Harbor.
Nova Scotia’s operational subsidy for the ferry’s 2020 season was set for $16.3 million — a new high.
However, as a result of the season’s cancellation, it’s not clear what dollar amount the province remains on the hook for.
Andrea said the province is working with Bay Ferries and will have a “better understanding” of any potential savings in the fall.
“That would be something we address in a future (financial forecast) update,” he said.