June 4, 2018

Portland-Nova Scotia ferry service at risk if Bar Harbor route returns

Courtesy / Bay Ferries Ltd.
Courtesy / Bay Ferries Ltd.
Bay Ferries Ltd., whose 349-foot ferry the Cat travels between Portland and Nova Scotia, has raised the possibility of renewing its run to Bar Harbor. If that happens, the company's CEO said it would likely mean discontinuing the Portland-to-Nova-Scotia route.

If Bay Ferries Ltd. renews ferry service from Bar Harbor to Nova Scotia, it will likely mean discontinuing the Portland-to-Nova-Scotia route, CEO Mark MacDonald told the Mount Desert Islander.

"We believe that we can provide important assistance to the town and its citizens, while rebuilding a stable long-term ferry business," MacDonald said.

Bay Ferries, which returned to serving Portland in June 2016, currently has a 10-year contract with the province of Nova Scotia and operates with an annual subsidy of approximately $10 million in Canadian currency (or $7.5 million U.S.), the Islander reported.

In discussions about whether the service should resume in Bar Harbor, speakers frequently assume the company is viable only with government subsidies, making long-term planning difficult. But MacDonald told the Islander the company received subsidies from the province of Nova Scotia when it expanded service to Portland from 2006 to 2009, and again from 2016 to the present. The company did not receive subsidies during its time running the service in Bar Harbor, from 1997 to 2006.

Bay Ferries Ltd., former operator of ferry service from Bar Harbor to Nova Scotia, last fall notified the town of Bar Harbor of its interest in resuming that service. At the time, the Ellsworth American reported the notification came at the 11th hour during the town's consideration of other potential uses of the former Bluenose and Cat ferry terminal.

MacDonald said the company has met its financial projections in the first two seasons of its Portland-to-Nova-Scotia route.

In November, the Bar Harbor Town Council voted to buy the former ferry terminal for $3.5 million from the Maine Department of Transportation, but didn't settle on what to do with the property. The town's Ferry Terminal Property Advisory Committee has recommended a multi-use marine facility with tender boat landings from cruise ships and a transportation hub, but the council has not adopted the recommendation.

On June 12, Bar Harbor voters will vote on whether to authorize the town council to purchase the terminal property.

Judge tosses Portland pilotage fees hike

A legal ruling issued Friday in Portland by Superior Court Justice Lance Walker against the Portland Board of Harbor Commissioners tossed out the 2017 hike in pilotage fees that was contested by Bay Ferries.

The Bangor Daily News reported that the judge ruled the regulatory body had not gathered enough information to support raising the pilotage fees by more than 50% last November. His decision could require two Portland pilots, who'd been granted a minimum pilotage fee of $1,077 under the new fee structure, to provide more financial information to the harbor commissioners board.

The BDN reported that the ruling potentially impacts hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in fees that Bay Ferries and other foreign companies that frequent the port of Portland, such as Eimskip, must pay pilots to guide them into the harbor.

Both a representative of the harbor commissioners board and the lawyer for Bay Ferries declined comment on Friday's ruling.

Bay Ferries' challenge to an earlier rate hike approved in May 2017 — from the minimum pilotage fee of $709 to $1,200 minimum — is still pending in the court, BDN reported.


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