The city of Portland and federal customs officials are moving closer to a deal that could keep ferry service between the city and Nova Scotia alive.
The U.S. Department of Customs and Border Protection had previously said it would close its screening operations at the Ocean Gateway terminal because the city hadn't made good on promised upgrades that could cost as much as $7 million.
But city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin says negotiations this month brought the two sides closer to a solution.
"We presented a proposal that talked about a million dollars of upgrades," Grondin says. "Customs came back to us and said they're looking for something more in the one-and-a-half to two million dollar range. So we'll certainly have to figure that out and see what we can find funding for."
Grondin says immediate upgrades could include improved security camera surveillance, radiation detection and license-plate reading technology. And she says the city will need to find funding, possibly through a public-private partnership, that does not add expenses for municipal taxpayers.
In a statement a Customs spokesman says the proposed short-term upgrades would keep the facility in service through the next season. If the city can provide a funded plan for later improvements, he says the agency could sign on to an agreement to stay on through 2020.
Mark McDonald, CEO for Bay Ferries, which operates the Yarmouth-to-Portland Cat ferry, declined to say whether the company would put any funding on the table. But he noted that the service carried more passengers this year than last, even though the failure of one of the boat's four engines forced a service cutback.
"We look forward to coming back to full speed, literally and figuratively," McDonald says. "I spent yesterday afternoon meeting with our marketing team and going through the various indicators arising from last season and we're really excited going forward."
The engine is now being repaired by its manufacturer in North Carolina, McDonald says, and the boat will be back to full service by next spring.