Cat ferry’s potential move hits “a snag”
Town of Bar Harbor not yet able to finalize purchase agreement for terminal property
A potential move of The Cat ferry from Portland, Maine to Bar Harbor has hit “a snag,” necessitating a delay in the process of making a final decision on where the ferry will sail to and from next year.
Bar Harbor’s town manager Cornell Knight told Bar Harbor council last week that Governor Paul LePage is refusing to sign the deed for the purchase of the former ferry terminal property unless there is a slight change to wording of a section contained in the document.
Bay Ferries is eyeing the terminal property as a potential port to sail the Cat ferry in and out of next season, feeling the move will save the company money due to a shorter sailing distance and will allow it to tap into what it feels is a robust tourism market.
In September the town of Bar Harbor signed a purchase and sale agreement with the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) to purchase the terminal property for $3.5 million. The understanding then was the town would purchase the property with no further strings attached from MDOT.
Knight reported to council on Nov. 28 that at that time both sides had agreed to the agreement.
But now there is some disagreement.
“The week before last the outside counsel preparing the documents for closing contacted our attorney and said there’s been a snag with the deed and he needed to talk to our attorney about agreeing to the language,” Knight told council.
He said the governor’s office is asking that the language in a particular passage of the deed be changed to include the words “including municipal zoning requirements in effect on the date of this conveyance.” Knight said the town’s attorney isn’t sure why the change is required or what impact the language could have in the future.
As a result of the discussions – and now disagreement – now happening, the closing date for the purchase of the property has been extended. Instead of Nov. 30, the closing date will now be on or before Jan. 31, 2019.
“We do have an extension in place and we’ll work on getting that resolved,” said Knight.
In October, Bar Harbor town council voted unanimously to authorize its town manager to sign a five-year lease that would allow Bay Ferries to sail The Cat ferry to and from Bar Harbor. But the town cannot sign that lease until its purchase of the terminal property has been completed.
Knight said last week that he had spoken with Bay Ferries and the company is still working through their due diligence – “as you know they’re still having some customs and border issues that they’re working through,” he said.
He said the ferry operator, which sails to and from Yarmouth, would like to work on an agreement that would allow it to start some work, at their risk, on the property before the town owns it.
“DOT seems agreeable to that, we’re just working on the paperwork right now,” said Knight.
Council appeared aback by this “snag,” as things seemed to be smooth sailing on the purchase agreement front.
“I was kind of stunned that the governor would kind of throw this wrench into the works at this late date, but it’s not out of line with what the governor has been known to do,” said Bar Harbor council chair Gary Friedmann. “This was our only course of action, to basically extend the closing until there’s a new governor.”
“I think the biggest issue now is it does make it more difficult for Bay Ferries,” he said, adding it creates less certainty as the ferry operator is counting on the town owning the property.
Bay Ferries has not yet indicated its finalized plans for the 2019 season to Portland, where it has operated for the past three years, with last year being its more successful season yet as it transported 50,185 passengers.
Initially Bay Ferries was going to give its decision to the city of Portland by Nov. 15.
Jessica Grondin, a spokesperson for the city, said on Monday that the deadline for Bay Ferries had been moved back to Nov. 30 and has now been extended to Dec. 31.
The terminal property in Bar Harbor.
The Cat ferry in Yarmouth harbour.