Bay Ferries to begin service between Yarmouth and Maine in June
Tickets for the inaugural season are now on sale
Bay Ferries announced Friday it will be ready to start its new service between Yarmouth and Bar Harbor, Maine by June 26.
A media release issued by the company said the service will consist of one round trip per day until Labour Day, with the ferry leaving Yarmouth at 9:30 a.m. local time and departing Bar Harbor at 3 p.m. local time.
After Labour Day, there will be six crossings per week until the scheduled end of the season on Oct. 13, 2020.
"We are grateful for the continued strong support and patience of customers, community partners, and governments as this project has moved toward completion," said Mark MacDonald, chairman and CEO of Bay Ferries, in the release.
"We look forward to building the market for this very important service and moving people between Maine and Nova Scotia for many years to come."
Tickets went on sale Friday morning.
Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines told reporters at Province House that what makes the government and Bay Ferries so confident about the season ahead is that the date was reached in conjunction with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
"They are fully aware of what is being said today and the work with Bay Ferries and they are comfortable that the release of the sale [of tickets] will lead to the eventual authorization. Until that work is complete we can't say that with 100 per cent authority, but our relationship there with that group is better than it's ever been."
Getting to this point has not been cheap.
The budget for the service in the 2019-20 fiscal year was $13.8 million and Yarmouth MLA Zach Churchill confirmed on Friday that next week's budget will include additional money to bring the final total to $17.8 million.
Churchill said the budget overrun is a combination of additional costs related to the terminal construction in Bar Harbor, as well as lost revenue as a result of the ferry remaining docked last season. Still, Churchill said the spending makes sense.
"It's absolutely critical for the tourism economy of southwestern Nova Scotia," he said, adding that it goes beyond the economy in his area.
"Visitors that come off of that ferry tend to spend double what other visitors spend in the province. They visit all parts of the province [and] they stay longer. So these are high-value visitor tourists that are contributing to our tourism growth from a revenue perspective that we see."
Tory Leader Tim Houston, perhaps the harshest critic of the service and what it has cost the province so far, was dismayed to learn the bill for last season was going to increase.
"It's just very frustrating that the cost continues to go up and Nova Scotians haven't seen the benefit of this service at all," he said in an interview.
"It's just mismanaged from the very beginning and it's just a terrible situation."
Houston said he takes no comfort knowing U.S. Customs and Border Protection was involved in setting the date.
"They haven't earned any credibility on this file," he said, referring to the provincial government.
Bay Ferries is a year behind schedule resuming service between Nova Scotia and Maine because of delays getting U.S. approvals for work on the Bar Harbor facility.
The release said Bay Ferries worked closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection throughout the fall and winter "in the continuation of approval processes and in ongoing construction at the Bar Harbor ferry terminal."
Some work remains
While "significant" work has been done already, some work still remains for the border control facility in Bar Harbor. That work includes completion of an outside primary inspection area, the installation of officers' booths and inspection equipment and completion of secondary and outbound inspection areas.
"Bay Ferries believes that the remaining work can be completed in accordance with a project plan developed in collaboration with all contractors and USCBP," it said.
Work on Bar Harbor's marine facilities was completed last year.
Bay Ferries said the start date could be moved to an earlier date if work wraps up sooner than expected.
Whenever the ferry starts running, Churchill said it would be "breathing life again" into the economy of his region, particularly in services and accommodations, which took a big hit last year.
"This ferry really matters and we're very excited to get it back on the water and start generating that economic activity again in our part of the province."
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With files from Alex Cooke