Nova Scotia's economic development minister says his talks this week with state and local officials in Maine on a proposed ferry service confirmed that the state is ready and willing to offer its assistance, including a $5-million line of credit.
Graham Steele, speaking Wednesday from Portland, Maine, also said the mayor of Portland, Michael Brennan, is firmly behind the proposal.
"Overall, it was very encouraging," Steele said in an interview. "I wanted to make sure that people here were aware of what was going on in Nova Scotia. The people here are very knowledgeable and keen to do whatever needs to be done to get the ferry service started again."
The minister met with Brennan on Tuesday and with Gov. Paul LePage on Wednesday.
Hopes for daily service
He said LePage reaffirmed commitments he made in a July 23 letter to Premier Darrell Dexter, which included support for marketing, new infrastructure and a line of credit for potential operator STM Quest of Maine.
"He said he wanted the state to do whatever it needed to do to make the service a success," Steele said. "They would love to see their newish ferry terminal used for a daily service between Nova Scotia and Maine."
Steele said the terminal in Portland, built in 2008 and owned by the city, is in excellent shape because it continues to serve visiting cruise ships.
As for the terminal in Yarmouth, Steele said municipal officials have told him the federal government is in the process of divesting it to the municipality, which should have no problem cleaning it up.
"There's nobody who's involved in this process who believes the current state of the Yarmouth terminal will stand in the way of a re-established service," he said. "It will be cleaned up in due course."
Meanwhile, the province's negotiations with STM Quest started last week and are going well, Steele said.
Ferry running by May 2014
He said more work needs to be done, but he said little stands in the way of having the new ferry service in operation by next May.
"We believe that STM Quest has put forward a solid business plan for a financially self-sustaining ferry," he said, adding that the province isn't interested in offering a permanent subsidy.
Last week, STM Quest was selected to set up and run the service between Yarmouth and Portland, potentially restoring a link to the United States that was cut in December 2009 when the provincial government cancelled an annual $6-million subsidy.
At the time, the province said it made little sense to support a money-losing venture.
The provincial government, responding to a political backlash in southwestern Nova Scotia, is now offering up to $21 million over seven years to restart the service.