Nova Scotia is going back to the drawing board in its quest to restart ferry service between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and Portland, Maine, after rejecting both proposals that were submitted.

The province announced on Tuesday morning that it will launch a modified procurement process to find a ferry operator after an evaluation committee determined both proposals it had received in response to its first inquiry failed to meet minimum criteria.

“We know this is disappointing news and I share in this disappointment, however, we are not giving up on a new ferry in Yarmouth,” Percy Paris, the province’s minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, said in a statement. “People in southwestern Nova Scotia want to see a viable ferry service in Yarmouth. So does this government. Nova Scotians living in this region deserve the right service, one they can count on being there for the long term.”

When contacted Tuesday afternoon, Paris would not offer the Bangor Daily News details on why the evaluation committee rejected proposals from Eliot-based Quest Navigation, which last month leased a ship to provide the service, and Baltimore-based engineering firm Maritime Applied Physics Corp., which also has an office in Brunswick.

“It’s a tough question,” Paris said. “I say that because both proposals contained confidential, proprietary information and I would be somewhat in trouble if I divulged that sort of information to you or the public.”

Paris, again citing confidentiality, also declined to go into detail on what criteria the proposals were measured against.

“We wanted any proposal to be a viable and sustainable operation and we knew that we wanted to have all winning conditions in place for any proposal going forward,” he said.

He also hinted at the fact that companies didn’t have much time to prepare their bids.

“We knew and most people knew it was somewhat optimistic to have ferry service in place for 2013, but we didn’t want to rule out that possibility altogether and that’s why we went ahead. … I think a more realistic date would have been in 2014.”

Mark Amundsen, CEO of Quest Navigation, released a statement on Tuesday saying he was disappointed with the province’s decision, but remains confident that Quest’s proposal “is the best option.” He said he would meet with Nova Scotia officials for more details about why Quest’s proposal failed to meet the criteria, then determine the company’s next step.

“Quest Navigation presented a strong and sustainable solution to provide year-round ferry service between Yarmouth, N.S., and Portland, Maine — one that will create jobs on both sides of the border, reinvigorate tourism and commercial trade between New England and Atlantic Canada, and contribute to the economy of both regions,” he said.

Richard Frost, business development manager for MAPC, said in a statement to the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday that the company plans to resubmit its proposal.

Frost also revealed some previously unknown aspects of MAPC’s proposal.

“MAPC’s analysis indicated the challenges to a single, large-car ferry, such as the former Scotia Prince, were prohibitive, and had instead proposed an alternative approach utilizing a 210-passenger hydrofoil ferry,” Frost said in the statement. “Given the need to rebuild ridership, this approach allows the addition of vessels as the market grows, thereby reducing the risk to both the operator and the province.”

MAPC’s proposal recommended five separate hydrofoil vessels, which are more expensive to build but use 30 percent less fuel per passenger mile, would be needed to meet the ridership objectives of the province.

The province provided the two companies “a very, very detailed debrief” of their submissions to know where they fell short of the criteria, Paris said. Both companies are welcome to resubmit modified proposals in the next procurement process, he said.

A new request for proposals is expected to be issued in the spring, Paris said. This time it will involve much more proactive outreach to ferry operators who did not bid in the last round, he said.

“What we’re going to try to do is be as inclusive as possible with respect to ferry operators all over the world,” he said. “We’re going to be very open and have open dialogue with all of them as to what the proposal should and shouldn’t look like.”

Nova Scotia has committed $21 million over seven years to help a ferry operator restart service between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and Portland. However, neither Maine nor Portland has offered to provide any financial assistance to the effort.

When asked if he would like to see Maine and Portland put some money on the table, Paris had a diplomatic answer.

“I understand your question and this is my answer: The ideal situation would be a partnership by all governments of all levels, not only here in Canada and Nova Scotia, but also in the U.S.,” he said.

Whit Richardson

Whit Richardson is Business Editor at the Bangor Daily News. He blogs about Maine business, entrepreneurs and the economy.