Plenty of questions, but few answers, on Yarmouth ferry
Transportation minister not even sure lease arrangement with Bay Ferries still valid
Nova Scotia taxpayers are likely to shell out millions of dollars again this year to subsidize ferry service between Nova Scotia and Maine.
But, with a sailing season roughly four months away, the cabinet minister overseeing the file struggled to answer questions from reporters Thursday.
At one point in an almost 15-minute discussion about the service and its anticipated costs, Lloyd Hines even cast doubt whether the lease arrangement between Bay Ferries and the province remained valid. That's because the original deal was to provide service between Yarmouth and Portland and not to Bar Harbor, the new port of call.
"I don't know if it is or not," he said. "Is it? I don't know."
The town of Bar Harbor, which now owns the ferry terminal Bay Ferries wants to use, is still negotiating with the company regarding the "full cost of needed capital improvements, along with annual lease payments," according to a document dated Monday and posted on the town's website.
A week ago a Bar Harbor newspaper, the Mount Desert Islander, reported that work had begun at the facility. Bay Ferries documents filed with the town last July estimated the refurbishment costs to be roughly $3.7 million.
Nova Scotia has hired Bruce Tuck, vice-president of Eastpoint Engineering Limited, as an adviser to provide a third-party analysis of those costs, but Hines couldn't say what the marine and structural engineer had determined.
"I haven't seen the report," said Hines.
Asked if the province was footing the bill for the work already underway, Hines said he didn't know. Nor could he say what portion of the bill Nova Scotians might have to shoulder.
"There would be costs associated with the move and I haven't seen the arrangement between Bay Ferries and ourselves in this particular move, but definitely the province would be paying for at least some of that activity."
Hines did not appear worried that renovations were proceeding before a formal lease had been signed between Bay Ferries and Bar Harbor.
"I understand the lease has not been completely finished, but I think there's letters of understanding, a memorandum of understanding that would enable access to get in on the site," he said.
"We intend to operate this facility out of Bar Harbor in this season and we're moving ahead with intent on that."
Hines suggested Bay Ferries had it all under control.
"We're quite confident with this operator, that he knows what he's doing and that we will have an improved service," he said.
When a reporter challenged the minister that there was no guarantee of a deal, Hines offered an unusual bit of reassurance.
"You know, it kind of depends on how you define guarantee," he said. "I mean we are very confident that this operation is going to go this year."
"There is an element of uncertainty around what would happen if, I don't know, whatever kind of SCUD missile came that that took the operation out," said Hines smiling. "But at this point in time we're quite confident that this is prudent expenditure of taxpayers' money."
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