A plan to relocate the high speed ferry service known as “the CAT” from Portland to its former port in Bar Harbor is being eyed cautiously.
Some Bar Harbor residents worry that the ferry operator may be taking on a greater expense than it can handle. During Tuesday night meeting of the Town Council, some critics expressed fears that local taxpayers could be stuck with a hefty bill, should Bay Ferries Ltd decide to terminate service to the community as it did nine years ago.
To re-establish service between Bar Harbor and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Bay Ferries CEO Mark MacDonald has offered the community an upfront payment of $3 million for infrastructure improvements to the former CAT terminal now owned by the town. The company has also promised to pay a minimum of $200,000 per year over the life of its five-year lease.
But some question whether the Nova Scotia provincial government will adequately subsidize Bay Ferries operations. Councilor Judith Noonan says the town needs assurances that financial challenges won't prompt the company to terminate service again.
"As I understand it, the loss of the subsidy was part of the reason you pulled out," Noonan said. "How is this situation different than that situation? If you're going to do a five-year lease, I don't want to find out in two years that you don't want to be here and want to leave again."
Bay Ferries CEO Mark MacDonald told Noonan he could bring a provincial government minister to a future Bar Harbor town council meeting to confirm the province's financial commitment to the CAT proposal. He says there is a general understanding among provincial leaders that terminating the Bar Harbor run was a mistake, and that the province is committed to the proposal.
"We don't speak for the province of Nova Scotia, we don't purport to, but there is an extremely strong commitment going forward around the ferry service and, again, that's something they should say to you, not me, but I certainly can say insofar as our company is in the middle of that discussion, which we sense that strong commitment and we've seen that strong commitment," MacDonald said.
The council voted unanimously to continue its review of the Bay Ferries proposal with the goal of scheduling a public hearing on the plan and then a vote on the offer no later than Oct. 2.
Updated July 18, 2018 4:13 p.m.