Top News

Bay Ferries sees 21 per cent increase over last year during Cat ferry's 2018 season with 50,185 passengers

The Cat ferry docked on the Yarmouth waterfront. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
The Cat ferry docked on the Yarmouth waterfront. TINA COMEAU PHOTO - Tina Comeau

YARMOUTH, N.S. – A total of 50,185 passengers were carried back and forth between Portland and Yarmouth on The Cat ferry this year, which Bay Ferries says is an increase of 21 per cent from the year before.

The last sailing of the season was Oct. 8. Bay Ferries has seen its passenger counts go up each year since taking over the route in 2016 when it transported 35,551 passengers. In 2017 The Cat carried 41,623 passengers, despite having to cancel 25 per cent of its crossings due to an engine issue.

The Cat ferry passing the Ships Stern Light while leaving Yarmouth harbour, sailing past Cape Forchu, during an August 2018 crossing. ERVIN OLSEN PHOTO
The Cat ferry passing the Ships Stern Light while leaving Yarmouth harbour, sailing past Cape Forchu, during an August 2018 crossing. ERVIN OLSEN PHOTO

Which U.S. port The Cat high-speed ferry travels to and from next season is the big question now, but a decision on that is close.

The company has been exploring the possibility of sailing to and from Bar Harbor, as it did from the years 1997 to 2009. For months the Town of Bar Harbor has been considering whether it wants to enter into a lease agreement with Bay Ferries. The town council is expected to make its decision at an Oct. 16 council meeting.

Bay Ferries had approached the town in July with a proposal to make the port switch in time for next year’s season.

A review of the lease for the Bar Harbor ferry terminal occurred at council’s Oct. 2 meeting. The detailed 14-page lease agreement covers a lot of ground, including spelling out the terms of usage of the property by the ferry operation and also the public, Bay Ferries’ monthly lease payments and a ‘province guarantee’ clause of $1 million US funds from the province of Nova Scotia.

The obligations of the town of Bar Harbor, as the landlord, and Bay Ferries, as the tenant, are also spelled out in detail.

The start of the five-year lease is dated Dec. 1, 2018.

Cornell Knight, town manager for the Town of Bar Harbor, says the council and Bay Ferries have both put in a lot of due diligence in considering the proposal.

“We have had a very thorough review of the proposal with numerous updates at council meetings and Bay Ferries has been very good to deal with and I think it would be a good decision for the town to enter into the lease agreement,” Knight said on Oct. 12. “The additional revenue would help cover the new debt payments the town will incur to purchase the property from the State of Maine, without impacting property taxes or interfering with the town’s plan to develop the rest of the property.”

In early September, Bar Harbor town council held a three-hour public forum to give the public its say on the proposal. Knight says council heard both positive comments and opposition to a lease.

Over the past few months the town rejected a proposal put forth by a Maine company that wanted to explore the potential of international ferry service, opting instead to only consider the Bay Ferries proposal. 

The terminal facility in Bar Harbor. PHOTO COURTESY OF CORNELL KNIGHT/BAR HARBOR TOWN MANAGER
The terminal facility in Bar Harbor. PHOTO COURTESY OF CORNELL KNIGHT/BAR HARBOR TOWN MANAGER

Bay Ferries is looking at the Bar Harbor market for a number of reasons, which, it says, includes tapping into the strength of Bar Harbor as a destination and the tourism market it provides; uncertainty about future availability of the Portland ferry terminal property; and the opportunity to reduce operational costs, particularly fuel given that it would be a shorter sailing distance.

In an Oct. 12 media release, Bay Ferries noted that fuel price increases were challenging as its 2018 season progressed. However, the company says it took all possible measures to control the cost, although it didn’t specify those means or the cost.

Bay Ferries has told Bar Harbor town council in the past that the ferry company and the province of Nova Scotia would be footing the bill for terminal upgrades and renovations. A figure of around $3 million US has been referred to, but it was noted that was not a confirmed figure. But the company also said if the move was cost-prohibitive that would have to be taken into account as well.

Bay Ferries continues to have an option to extend its current lease with the City of Portland for an additional season. However, this option only exists to Nov. 15. On Oct. 11, Jessica Grondin, director of communications for the City of Portland, said the city is awaiting the company’s decision.

“They asked us for an extension, until Nov. 15, in order to inform us of their plans for next year,” she said. “We have always been in favor of keeping the connection with Nova Scotia alive, but we do realize there are a lot of factors at play when it comes to our own needs for our waterfront usage and for the needs of Bay Ferries.”

Bay Ferries says to remain in Portland, even in the short term, a commitment would have to be made for construction of a new US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) facility. The likely cost of that would be is at least $7-8 million.

Over the past few months there have been extensive ongoing discussions with US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) concerning the facilities that would be required if the Bar Harbor ferry terminal was re-opened to international ferry service. Bay Ferries says to conduct operations from the Bar Harbor terminal, USCBP must approve facility plans.

Bay Ferries says it has engaged an architect and several engineering consultants to assess the cost of the work required to bring the ferry terminal back into operation. The results of this work will soon be presented to the province of Nova Scotia, which has also engaged an independent consultant for the process.

"We have hired an independent advisor who is an expert in marine infrastructure to provide third party analyses of potential costs to the province," says Marla MacInnis, media relations advisor for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. "Costs associated with this work will be no more than $35,000."

This year the province budgeted $10.9 million as an operating subsidy for The Cat's season. MacInnis said it was too early to say what the final subsidy will be for this year and whether the amount while be on budget, higher or lower. 

Meanwhile, discussions continue with US Coast Guard, various regulatory and other bodies and the State of Maine about a potential move to Bar Harbor by The Cat.

“Ultimately, it will require a positive decision of all of the parties mentioned above (Town of Bar Harbor, USCBP, Bay Ferries, and the Province of Nova Scotia) taking all factors into consideration for the project to proceed,” reads the Oct. 12 Bay Ferries media release. “Further announcements will follow over the coming weeks as additional decisions are made.”

On the Nova Scotia side of the international ferry operation, in September the federal and provincial governments, and the three municipal units in Yarmouth County, announced $9 million in funding for upgrades to the ferry terminal facility in Yarmouth. The infrastructure money is being divided into thirds between the three levels of government.


If Bay Ferries operates from Bar Harbor...

• The trip will take three to three-and-a-half hours.

• The season would run May 25 to Oct. 8.

• There would be daily operation during July and August with the ferry operating five to seven times a week during the shoulder seasons.

• The Cat would depart Yarmouth 9:30 a.m. local time, arrive in Bar Harbor at noon (EST). The Cat would depart from Bar Harbor 3 p.m. (EDT) and arrive in Yarmouth at 7:30 p.m. local time.

• Estimated passenger target goals Bay Ferries has looked at: Year one 60,000 passengers. Year two 70,000 passengers. Year three 80,000 passengers.

• Bay Ferries wants to lease the Bay Ferries terminal for a five-year term. 2019-2023

(Source: Bay Ferries’ proposal to Town of Bar Harbor.)

Recent Stories