© TINA COMEAU PHOTO
People arriving in Nova Scotia on the Nova Star during a previous ferry season.
YARMOUTH – The province’s transportation minister thinks June 1 is a good target for the start of ferry service between Portland and Yarmouth.
Of course there’s still one snag.
Bay Ferries, the company chosen to operate the service, has yet to secure a boat.
In speaking with reporters after a Feb. 11 cabinet meeting, Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister Geoff MacLellan once again said he is confident there will be a service for 2016.
Bay Ferries isn’t commenting on its efforts to secure a ship, beyond saying it is working diligently. Recently it’s been reported that Bay Ferries is eyeing a U.S. navy-owned high-speed ferry. MacLellan said that’s not the only vessel Bay Ferries is having discussions about.
He said the province is not involved in discussions with the U.S. navy but said it was good to see that some lawmakers in Portland feel so strongly about the service that they’ve gotten involved in trying to identify ships.
“It was refreshing, quite frankly, to see that a U.S. senator and the U.S. state government are so concerned, and are indicating and communicating the importance of the Yarmouth to Portland connection,” he said. “But again we’re not celebrating anything.”
Until Bay Ferries secures a vessel no specifics – such as schedules, fares, provincial subsidy, etc. – can be finalized.
MacLellan was asked whether the province was prepared to put up money to purchase a vessel. He said the province and Bay Ferries have not had that specific conversation, nor has Bay Ferries indicated whether it will be buying or leasing a vessel.
“Once the vessel is identified that becomes the time to have those specific discussions on what the financial arrangement looks like,” he said.
Asked if Nova Scotians will be hired as crew, MacLellan said the jobs compliment is not yet known.
“I can tell you without question this has been something that we’ve talked about many times,” he said. “(Bay Ferries CEO) Mark MacDonald wants Nova Scotians on board or part of that Bay Ferries team on the ground in Yarmouth and in Nova Scotia to the extent possible.”
Many other issues also can’t be answered until a ship is identified, including whether infrastructure changes would be required at the ferry terminals in Yarmouth and Portland.
MacLellan was asked about MacDonald’s language in a recent company statement in which he said when it comes to operating ferry service for 2016 that Bay Ferries was doing everything it can “to reach that goal.” Is it a goal or a guarantee, the minister was asked?
“Mark (MacDonald) is careful to indicate expectations and not raise them too high,” MacLellan said. “I think we’re in a good place and we’re going to get there for 2016.” He added MacDonald has never indicated “the clock is ticking and we’re in trouble with the season.”
Still, tourism operators are anxious for news, truckers wonder whether a boat will accommodate them, and some tour bus companies have cancelled trips or are keeping a watchful eye.
Asked if he’s concerned that no ship has been secured yet, Premier Stephen McNeil said, “Of course I think all of us are. But I have all the confidence in the minister and Bay Ferries to be able to make sure we have an operator and a vessel to continue that service.”