YARMOUTH, N.S. – The City of Portland has released August numbers for The Cat ferry that show the boat carried 18,366 passengers. This was an increase of 5,051 passengers from the month of July when The Cat carried 13,315 passengers.
Bay Ferries president and CEO Mark MacDonald says they are pleased with this season’s numbers.
"Our people are working very hard and we're pleased that we're continuing to make progress,” he says.
According to numbers released by the City of Portland, this puts the total number of passengers from June 8 (when the season started) to the end of August at 38,382 passengers.
Following the release of July numbers for this season, MacDonald had said that based on sailings that had already occurred in 2018 and advance sales for the rest of the season they had already exceeded last year’s season total passenger count.
Last year The Cat carried 41,462 passengers – which was up from the previous year’s total of 35,551. The 2017 increase over 2016 occurred even after The Cat had to cancel 25 per cent of its crossings last summer due to engine issues.
Of the passengers that traveled on the Cat last month, 8,599 people departed from Portland to sail to Nova Scotia and 9,767 travelled from Nova Scotia to Maine. From Sept. 1 to Oct. 8 when this year’s season ends, The Cat is scheduled to make 30 round-trip daily crossings.
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Bay Ferries, meanwhile, continues to gather information and have discussions with the Town of Bar Harbor about potentially using this port for its ferry operations between Nova Scotia and Maine instead of Portland. Bay Ferries has a 10-year contract with the province of Nova Scotia to provide ferry service.
Bay Ferries has said it is exploring switching U.S. ports because a shorter sailing distance will decrease operational costs, the company has concerns that ongoing development on the Portland waterfront will eventually squeeze out ferry operations there, and it sees potential in accessing the tourism market that travels to Bar Harbor.
Bay Ferries says it wants to make the service more efficient to bring down the provincial subsidy the service receives. Heading into this sailing season the Nova Scotia government said it was providing a $10.9 million operating subsidy, which was a $1.5-million increase due to projected higher fuel costs.
Bay Ferries purchases all of its provisions – including fuel, food, etc. – in Nova Scotia. While the marine crew is American due to the vessel being registered in the Unites States, there are around 100 people in Yarmouth who have employment directly related to the ferry operation, both onshore and on the boat.
Passengers who travel on the boat contribute economically to the tourism industry throughout the province in their travels.
“We know that they travel around the province quite significantly,” Tourism Nova Scotia CEO Michele Saran said earlier in the season. “The ferry is good for Nova Scotia.”
THE BAR HARBOR DISCUSSIONS
“Discussions with Bar Harbor are ongoing,” says MacDonald. “The Town of Bar Harbor continues to consider the proposal we have made. Our company is working with many stakeholders on our due diligence and the assessment of cost. Discussions also continue with US Customs and Border Protection and various regulators and authorities.”
Earlier this month landscape architect Sam Coplon presented a ferry terminal landscape plan to Bar Harbor council. The conceptual plan explores how ferry business and public use at the terminal property can co-exist so the site serves a dual purpose.
“The plan illustrates Bay Ferries’ preferred area for their use of the site,” read a report to council. “It is our understanding that there would be a fenced boundary for the security zone required by Homeland Security with no other encumbrances to the use of the terminal site outside of this boundary.”
Bar Harbor’s Sept. 18 council agenda includes an update presentation from Annette Higgins and Jim Wilson of Bay Ferries.
The agenda item also reads: “A lease agreement is being drafted and because of the timing Mark MacDonald was agreeable to have council decide at the Oct. 16 meeting instead of Oct. 2. He is aware that the lease needs to address concerns the town has raised around the marina/security issue.”
The Sept. 18 meeting agenda also includes an agenda item saying petitions in opposition to Bay Ferries’ plans will be presented to council.
At a Sept. 4 meeting, the Town of Bar Harbor approved a motion to sign the purchase and sale agreement with the Maine Department of Transportation for the purchase of the ferry terminal property. In June the citizens of Bar Harbor had voted 1,380 to 213 for the town to purchase the 4.5-acre property that was vacant and unused. Public access and public use of the property was an important factor of the vote.
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