Bay Fer­ries lease with Port­land ex­pires

Still many is­sues to work through for move to Bar Har­bor ser­vice

Tri-County Vanguard - - Front Page - TINA COMEAU TRICOUNTY VANGUARD

While there is still much to do and sort out be­fore ferry ser­vice be­tween Bar Har­bor, Maine and Yar­mouth, N.S. is fi­nal­ized, the lease agree­ment be­tween Bay Fer­ries and the City of Port­land has now ex­pired.

“Our com­pany had an op­tion to con­tinue for the 2019 sea­son in Port­land, which was sub­ject to mu­tual agree­ment of the par­ties. That op­tion ex­pired on Dec. 31,” said Mark MacDon­ald, pres­i­dent and CEO of Bay Fer­ries. The Cat ferry op­er­ated to and from Port­land the past three years.

“We’re very ap­pre­cia­tive to the City of Port­land who worked with us through the fall and ex­tended the (lease) op­tion date on sev­eral oc­ca­sions on our re­quest,” MacDon­ald added.

Jes­sica Grondin, a spokes­woman for the City of Port­land, also con­firmed the lease ex­pi­ra­tion in a Jan. 3 email, say­ing, “the lease has ex­pired with the City of Port­land. Fu­ture op­er­a­tional ques­tions should be ad­dressed to Bay Fer­ries.”

Bay Fer­ries has been work­ing with the Town of Bar Har­bor to re­sume ferry ser­vice from this port, which the com­pany sailed in and out of from 1997 to 2009. It says it had done so with­out any pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment sub­sidy un­til the year 2006, when it was asked to also take on the Port­land route, which in­creased the com­pany’s ex­penses.

Bay Fer­ries has eyed a re­turn to us­ing Bar Har­bor as its Amer­i­can port start­ing in 2019 to tap into a ro­bust tourism mar­ket and to re­duce op­er­a­tional costs with a shorter sail­ing dis­tance and less fuel con­sump­tion. Un­cer­tainty over the fu­ture avail­abil­ity of Port­land as a port was also a fac­tor.

But while Bar Har­bor town coun­cil voted unan­i­mously in Oc­to­ber to au­tho­rize its town man­ager to sign a five-year lease agree­ment with Bay Fer­ries for ferry ser­vice start­ing in 2019, there have been snags.

The town had to ex­tend the clos­ing date for its own $3.5-mil­lion pur­chase of the ferry ter­mi­nal prop­erty with the State of Maine when then-gov­er­nor Paul Lepage re­fused to sign the deed due to a change of word­ing he wanted within the doc­u­ment. The town could not sign the lease agree­ment with Bay Fer­ries un­til it of­fi­cially owned the prop­erty, although the Maine Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion did ap­prove a right of en­try to the ferry com­pany to ac­cess the prop­erty and start mi­nor work ahead of the town own­ing the prop­erty.

The clos­ing date for the town’s pur­chase that had been set for Nov. 30 was ex­tended to on or be­fore Jan. 31. Lepage is no longer gov­er­nor of Maine. The new gov­er­nor, Janet Mills, was sworn in Jan. 3.

Other out­stand­ing is­sues are with United States Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion (CBP). CBP says much work is needed to bring the Bar Har­bor ter­mi­nal up to its stan­dards – work Bay Fer­ries would carry out. It has also asked that Bay Fer­ries cover the salaries of CBP staff at the Bar Har­bor ter­mi­nal. MacDon­ald con­firmed that both of these things have been re­quested but wouldn’t com­ment fur­ther when asked if ask­ing Bay Fer­ries to cover the CBP salaries is an un­usual re­quest.

“We have been asked by USCBP to keep the de­tails of our dis­cus­sions on this is­sue con­fi­den­tial and we are re­spect­ing that re­quest,” he said. “It is not un­usual in our busi­ness to have to work through dif­fi­cult fi­nan­cial is­sues with gov­ern­ment au­thor­i­ties and reg­u­la­tors. But ul­ti­mately, we have to work to­gether co-op­er­a­tively and ef­fi­ciently and do good busi­ness, as our com­pany has done with USCBP for many years.”

TER­MI­NAL UPGRADES

When it comes to ter­mi­nal upgrades, Bay Fer­ries and the prov­ince of Nova Sco­tia would be cov­er­ing the cost. MacDon­ald has stated in the past the cost would be about $3 mil­lion U.S., although this was not yet a firm fig­ure. Bay Fer­ries has said stay­ing in Port­land would have cost ad­di­tional dol­lars as a com­mit­ment would have been needed for con­struc­tion of a new US Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion fa­cil­ity. The likely cost would have been in the $7-8 mil­lion range, the com­pany said.

Prior to the 2018 sea­son Bay Fer­ries and the prov­ince of Nova Sco­tia spent $1.5 mil­lion on cus­toms upgrades in Port­land. That pur­chased equip­ment is owned by the prov­ince.

About mov­ing to Bar Har­bor, MacDon­ald said on Jan. 3, “Our busi­ness ob­jec­tives are ba­si­cally two-fold: build vol­ume and sta­bil­ity in the busi­ness, which in turn sup­ports the prov­ince’s econ­omy, and lower the long-term cost of the ser­vice to the tax­payer. The move to Bar Har­bor is in­tended to sup­port both ob­jec­tives.”

In 2018, Bay Fer­ries trans­ported 50,185 pas­sen­gers to and from Nova Sco­tia, an in­crease of 21 per cent from the year be­fore. In 2017 The Cat car­ried 41,623 pas­sen­gers de­spite hav­ing to can­cel 25 per cent of its cross­ings due to an en­gine is­sue. In 2016, it trans­ported 35,551 pas­sen­gers.

OB­JEC­TIVE

“We’re at­tempt­ing to build a sus­tain­able long-term ferry ser­vice where we in­di­cate our op­er­at­ing sched­ule sev­eral years in ad­vance to mo­tor coach op­er­a­tors and other cus­tomers,” said MacDon­ald. “There is al­ways un­cer­tainty and there will be chal­lenges but Bar Har­bor is the fu­ture, and it is best for the ferry ser­vice if the fu­ture be­gins now. The Town of Bar Har­bor has placed great faith in our com­pany. We look for­ward to work­ing with them, as we do our other part­ners on both sides.”

A change of port, of course, will also have to be re­flected in mar­ket­ing car­ried out by Bay Fer­ries and Tourism Nova Sco­tia. Bay Fer­ries says ideally for an up­com­ing ferry sea­son mar­ket­ing would start as early as Jan­uary or Fe­bru­ary, although that hasn’t al­ways been pos­si­ble in re­cent years. The com­pany is par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Bos­ton Globe Travel Show later this month.

Bay Fer­ries says it main­tains on­go­ing close col­lab­o­ra­tion with Tourism Nova Sco­tia and has been in con­tact with var­i­ous cus­tomers con­cern­ing the 2019 ser­vice.

ERVIN OLSEN

The Cat ferry leav­ing Yar­mouth on one of its cross­ings be­tween Maine and Nova Sco­tia dur­ing the 2018 sea­son.

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