Nova Scotia

Start of Yarmouth-Bar Harbor ferry service delayed until at least 'mid-summer'

The start of the season for the ferry service between Yarmouth, N.S., and Bar Harbor, Maine, will be delayed into July. The service was originally scheduled to begin June 21, although the company had cautioned that could change.

'We knew going through the winter period that we had some complications,' says Bay Ferries CEO

The start of the season for the ferry service between Yarmouth, N.S., and Bar Harbor, Maine, will be delayed until well into July. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

The start of the season for the ferry service between Yarmouth, N.S., and Bar Harbor, Maine, will be delayed into July.

The service was originally scheduled to begin June 21, although the operator, Bay Ferries, had cautioned that could change.

Reservations for prior to July 7 are being cancelled. Passengers will have the option of being rerouted on the Fundy Rose, the ferry between Digby, N.S., and Saint John, N.B., which is also operated by Bay Ferries.

Company CEO Mark MacDonald said construction delays and the approval process related to the terminal in Bar Harbor, as well as work on the booths for customs agents, made the change necessary.

"We knew going through the winter period that we had some complications with [the American] government shutdown and there was a period of delay of transfer of the ferry terminal land from the state to the town, which complicated things a bit and made the timeline tighter," MacDonald said.

'We're going to get there'

Business Minister Geoff MacLellan said the government was disappointed by the news, but said the delays were out of the company's hands.

He said the province remains confident in the service and operator.

"They are pros," said MacLellan. "They give us the best chance … to have a successful ferry service running from Nova Scotia to Maine.

"[The delay] hasn't changed our resolve and our commitment to the people of Yarmouth and this Nova Scotia ferry service. We're going to get there."

Unclear when service will begin

When the service will begin remains unclear. A release from the company said the soonest it could start is "mid-summer."

MacDonald said the company doesn't want to set an exact date until it can be more certain.

"We're going to make this service live as quickly as we can, but we wanted to be fair and tell people that there is uncertainty," he said.

"It's a complicated project. Everybody is working hard at it and everybody is doing the best they can."

Work at the site has been pegged to cost $8.5 million. MacDonald said it is too soon to know if that will increase, although he said work to this point has reflected estimates.

'An asinine assumption'

He said an agreement with U.S. Customs and Border Protection is in place for service, contingent on the costs being covered by Bay Ferries.

MacLellan confirmed the Nova Scotia government would be footing the bill. He said the government asks for funding help from Maine and Bar Harbor, but it's prepared to go it alone.

"We bear all the costs because this is our service," he said.

"There isn't massive amount of profits being realized by Bay Ferries here. That's an asinine assumption that some will make."

The minister said people have the right to question, analyze and criticize the process the government has used to restore ferry service, following its cancellation in 2009, but he believes it's a benefit to province.

"I know that's a tough thing for people accept sometimes because of the amounts of money that are out there in terms of the original operational costs and the subsidy [and] now moving from Portland to Bar Harbor.

"But I promise you, the results, the economic value, is there not only for the region of Yarmouth, it's for everyone — it's all of our province."

As evidence, MacLellan pointed to the turnaround Yarmouth specifically and surrounding areas have experienced since ferry service between the seaside town and Maine resumed in 2014.

'We feel there's a great potential'

This is the first season the service will be in Bar Harbor after previously sailing to Portland, although Bay Ferries serviced the community until 2009. Despite the setbacks, MacDonald said he continues to believe moving back to Bar Harbor offers the best chance for the service being secure and sustainable for the long term.

He pointed to the 3.5 million people who visit Bar Harbor and nearby Acadia national park each year, along with the fact the new route cuts the service's fuel costs almost in half.

"We feel there's a great potential market there," he said.

"It's a more sustainable operation generally and we can run on schedules which are very attractive to customers. So, yeah, we believe it, but that's the business we're in."

PC Leader Tim Houston said news of the delay was disappointing but not surprising.

He said it was another symptom of a contract that did not hold the company fully accountable.

"At some point someone has to stop making excuses," he said.

He called on Premier Stephen McNeil to apologize to tourism operators and travellers whose plans have been disrupted by this latest delay.

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About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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