Nova Scotia

If Yarmouth ferry sailed even once this year, it would be 'productive': official

Nova Scotia's deputy transportation minister says Nova Scotia has no plans to abandon this year's sailing season for the Yarmouth to Maine ferry, but the Bar Harbor facility may not get U.S. approval until the end of August.

'Then we have nothing blocking us from sailing early next year,' says deputy transportation minister

The Cat ferry sits tied up on Yarmouth's waterfront in this file photo. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

Nova Scotia's top Transportation Department official is hoping there will be at least one ferry crossing between Yarmouth and Bar Harbor, Maine, this season.

Deputy minister Paul LaFleche told reporters Wednesday that the province hasn't set a deadline for cancelling the season.

"[The] drop-dead date [is] the last day of sailing," he said.

"We feel it would be productive even to sail one or two days to get the bugs out, and to have the full compliance stamp on the facility.

"We would like to try and sail this year, if at all possible, because if we can get the full compliance stamp, then we have nothing blocking us from sailing early next year."

Nova Scotia deputy transportation minister Paul LaFleche says officials hope the Yarmouth ferry will get at least one run in this year to work out some kinks. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

That "compliance stamp" would be a formal go-ahead from U.S. Customs and Border Protection to begin operations. 

LaFleche said based on past experience, Bay Ferries should have been granted permission to use the facility by now. He said U.S. officials used to be more forgiving when it came to compliance with rules and regulations.

"They would waive [shortcomings], as long as we were making best attempts to get it done," said LaFleche. "That doesn't seem to be the case any more."

The Bar Harbor ferry terminal, shown on June 30, 2019, is undergoing construction to get it ready for the Nova Scotia to Maine ferry. (Paul Withers/CBC)

LaFleche said that sentiment is bolstered by the experience of Bruce Tuck, a marine and structural engineer hired by the province to oversee the Bar Harbor operations on its behalf.

"What he had told us is that when we filed [our regulatory paperwork] in March, it would have been reasonable for us to be sailing in July, until something changed in the world," said LaFleche.

"They changed the way they did things and that now applies to everybody and we may be caught up in that."

LaFleche said the terminal could be fully compliant by the end of August if everything worked out as planned.

What the province is paying for

Meanwhile, the province is picking up the tab for expenses being incurred by Bay Ferries. LaFleche said that could include charter fees, crew accommodations and meal costs, as well as docking and pilot authority fees.

"We're paying all those costs, just as we would pay on one of our seven provincial ferries," he said.

Bay Ferries is keeping a crew in Yarmouth to be ready whenever the company gets the green light to sail.

LaFleche said Bay Ferries is also being paid its management fee, part of which is paying the crew on standby.

Court action

The province and the company have both refused to divulge that management fee.

The Tories have taken the province to court to learn how much the management fee is. The matter won't be heard until March 26, 2020.

The provincial government had budgeted $13.8 million for ferry operations this year. It's unclear how much of that money will be spent given savings on fuel and other associated costs with a shortened or scrapped season.

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