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Nova Star Ferry Service to Portland in Question as Officials Consider its Fate

Mark Vogelzang
The Nova Star ferry prepares to embark on a trip to Nova Scotia in June.

PORTLAND, Maine - A spokesperson for Nova Scotia's transportation minister says a decision is expected to come sometime this week on the whether to keep the Nova Star ferry's connection to Portland, Maine. The provincial government subsidizes the service between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and Portland, which saw an increase in U.S. travelers this summer, but a decline in Canadian passengers.

During its inaugural season, last summer, Nova Star Cruises got more than $28 million from the province to operate the service. But just 59,000 passengers traveled on the ferry - far short of the company's projection of 100,000 riders.

So this year, Nova Scotia's government cut its support for the ferry roughly in half. Dennis Bailey is the Maine-based spokesman for Nova Star Cruises. "We've had a 27 percent increase in tourists from the United States traveling to Nova Scotia."

But Bailey says there's been an almost identical decline in the number of Canadian passengers taking the boat to Portland this summer. Nova Star Cruises had hoped to carry a total of 80,000 passengers this season. But that goal is not likely to be reached.

Bailey says the currency exchange rate is driving Canadian passengers away. "Canadians lose about thirty cents on the dollar coming to America. Our prices are in American, U.S. dollars, so it's prohibitive for many people. So that's caused a bit of a problem. If the Canadian numbers were up as high as the U.S. numbers, we would be right on track, right on target."

One tourism official in Portland, though, says she's confident more Canadians can be convinced to travel to the city by ferry, even if the exchange rate continues to pose a challenge. Casey Gilbert heads Portland's Downtown District.

"People make decisions on where to travel based on how much their dollar is going to get them," Gilbert says. "But, hopefully, Portland provides such great value that they will overlook that fluctuation in currency and come stay with us."

Gilbert says Portland's tourism community does not want to see service to Nova Scotia stop again. But Dennis Bailey, Nova Star's spokesman, cautions that it will likely take as along as five years for any ferry operator to re-establish a profitable route between Yarmouth and Portland.

Nova Scotia's transportation minister, Geoff MacLellan, must now decide whether to sign on with Nova Star for another year or go with a different provider. A spokesperson says, by e-mail, that MacLellan is expected to make a decision sometime this week, after finishing a review of the Nova Star's financials.