16 bids submitted for Yarmouth ferry economic impact study
Public Works Minister Kim Masland expects to award the tender next month
Sixteen firms submitted bids to perform an economic impact assessment of the Cat ferry service that sails between Yarmouth, N.S. and Bar Harbor, Maine.
"I'm very pleased with that," Public Works Minister Kim Masland told reporters following a cabinet meeting in Halifax on Thursday. "I'm actually very confident we will have a very good study."
Masland, who last fall first said she wanted the study, said she expects the tender will be awarded some time in September. She said her department had "great feedback" from stakeholders in the tourism sector, as well as municipalities and opposition MLAs, as they drafted the request for proposals.
The work will take about two years, which means its delivery will coincide with the end of the current contract the provincial government has with service provider Bay Ferries. Masland said she isn't focused on the end date of the contract.
"What I look at is the fact that — which I've said all along — we'll take the time to make sure the study is done properly. There's never been a study done on the Yarmouth ferry service to the significance of this study and I think two years is a good thing."
The timeframe of the study means thorough data will be collected to assess whether taxpayers are getting good bang for their buck, said Masland. The ferry received a $17.9-million operating subsidy during the 2022 sailing season.
In opposition, the Progressive Conservatives were harsh critics of the service and the provincial funding it has received through the years, although the rhetoric has been dialed back since the Tories formed government.
Liberal Leader Zach Churchill, who is the MLA for Yarmouth, said he just wants to see "a fair process" as the service is evaluated.
"It's critical to the tourism economy in Nova Scotia," he told reporters.
Churchill said exit surveys of visitors suggest the ferry generates about $30 million of new money for the province. Other ferries sailing out of Nova Scotia require government funding or subsidies, and Churchill said it's frustrating that the service sailing to the United States is the only one the government wants to study.
Last year's sailing season followed a three-year hiatus because of travel restrictions related to COVID-19 and delays related to a switch in the port of call from Portland to Bar Harbor.
Numbers provided last month by Bay Ferries showed an increase in passenger traffic and ticket sales, but noted the service is still recovering from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects of the recent wildfires in the province.