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July 17, 2018

Bar Harbor to mull $1M, 5-year deal restoring CAT ferry service

Courtesy / Bay Ferries Ltd.
Courtesy / Bay Ferries Ltd.
The high-speed CAT ferry that once shuttled daily between Bar Harbor and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, could be plying that route again, under a proposal that's scheduled for discussion in Bar Harbor tonight.

The Bar Harbor Town Council is scheduled to take up at its Tuesday night meeting the proposed $1 million, five-year lease of a town-owned marine terminal by a Prince Edward Island company interested in restoring high-speed ferry service to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

Bay Ferries Ltd. said in the proposal received by the town last week that it would operate The CAT ferry from the vacant Eden Street terminal and pay rent of at least $200,000 per year. The company would also make $3 million in improvements to the property, including a dock ramp, pilings, building renovations and parking upgrades.

Service would start in June 2019, according to the proposal, using the 349-foot catamaran Bay Ferries currently runs between Nova Scotia and Portland. The Portland-to-Nova-Scotia service would be discontinued.

The Bar Harbor route is 106 miles long, 80 miles shorter than the Portland voyage, allowing the ferry to save fuel and operate at more "modest" speeds, the company noted in the proposal.

The proposal comes after much public anticipation and debate about the future of the former Marine Atlantic terminal, which served Yarmouth, Nova Scotia-based ferries for over 50 years — including The CAT, which berthed at the terminal from 1997 to 2009.

In June, Bar Harbor voters overwhelmingly approved the town's purchase of the terminal from the state of the 4.5-acre space for $3.5 million. Previously, a town committee had recommended that it be converted into a multi-use public marina, which might include facilities for cruise ship tenders or a landing for The CAT.

Two public surveys have found support for the return of The CAT to the terminal, according to the proposal.

Of 87 business people polled by the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, 72 indicated that they would like to see the ferry resume operations from the site. Another survey, by Wisconsin-based polling firm Polco, found that 74% of respondents supported the return of Bay Ferries service at the terminal.

Bay Ferries Chief Executive Officer Mark MacDonald is expected to speak at tonight's council meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in Bar Harbor Town Hall, 93 Cottage St.

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