National Newswatch

HALIFAX — The heavily subsidized ferry service between Nova Scotia and Maine won't be able to start on schedule at the end of June because of delays renovating its new terminal in Bar Harbor to suit U.S. customs requirements.

Bay Ferries was supposed to start sailing on June 21, but it now says the earliest date it could commence is "in the mid summer.''

The company said Friday that renovations to the existing ferry terminal building to ready it for use by passengers and U.S. Customs and Border Protection are behind schedule, as are renovations to the exterior area.

"The process of approving that (work) and creating the necessary facilities for all of the technology required in the building is complicated," said Mark MacDonald, Bay Ferries CEO. "We always knew it was, but the process has taken a little longer than anticipated."

MacDonald said the facilities have to be built in accordance with plans approved by U.S. customs.

"We are both building and engaging in a continuous approval process, and that approval process will continue until the facility is complete," he said.

As a result, Bay Ferries said all reservations for travel prior to July 7 will be cancelled and if passengers wish, they will be accommodated on the MV Fundy Rose which operates between Saint John, N.B., and Digby, N.S. MacDonald was unable to say how many passengers are affected.

In March, the Nova Scotia government announced it was spending an estimated $8.5 million to help with the renovation work. MacDonald said it's too soon to say whether the cost will increase.

It's also unclear when the service will resume, and MacDonald said he doesn't want to set an exact date until there's more certainty.

"Until we have a good confidence level in a specific date or range of dates, we don't want to indicate it and then disappoint people," he said.

The private operator moved its port in Maine from Portland to Bar Harbor earlier this year, saying it would save in fuel costs because of the shorter distance to its terminal in Yarmouth, N.S. MacDonald has also said he believes the switch would result in a more sustainable operation.

Nova Scotia Business Minister Geoff MacLellan said he doesn't believe the delay will have a "drastic impact" on the province's capital contribution to the terminal renovation project.

"No, unless there is some issue with design that requires increased investment," said MacLellan. "Today's delay does not specifically impact that $8-million number."

In addition to the renovation costs, Nova Scotia is providing $13.8 million for the ferry's operations this year — up from the $10.9 million spent in the 2018 sailing season.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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