In planning documents filed at the Bar Harbor town office, Bay Ferries says it plans to spend roughly $3.5 million to renovate the idle ferry terminal on Route 3, including the interior of the former customs building, so that it can begin ferry service to Nova Scotia by late June. Credit: Bill Trotter

The estimated cost for renovating the idle international ferry terminal in Bar Harbor has grown by more than $2.5 million, but the Nova Scotia government says it will cover the higher expense.

The provincial Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal issued a statement Wednesday saying the projected cost for fixing up the ferry terminal, which Bay Ferries plans to start using in June for catamaran ferry service between Nova Scotia and Maine, is $8.5 million in Canadian currency, which is equal to roughly $6.4 million U.S.

Earlier estimates Bay Ferries provided to the town of Bar Harbor, which owns the terminal, pegged renovation costs at about $5 million in Canadian currency, or around $3.75 million in U.S. funds. The higher estimate represents an increase of more than $2.5 million in American currency.

“The Nova Scotia-Maine ferry is a vital part of our transportation system and important to our tourism industry, particularly in southwest Nova Scotia,” said Lloyd Hines, the province’s transportation and infrastructure renewal minister. “We are confident the relocation to Bar Harbor will provide greater stability for the service and provide cost savings that will reduce the subsidy in the long term.”

The province said it is budgeting $13.8 million ($10.3 million U.S.) to operate the ferry service during the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Mark MacDonald, CEO of Bay Ferries, said Thursday in an email that the company still hopes to begin ferry service from Bar Harbor within the next three months.

“It is a very challenging work program in the time available, but all parties are working very hard to meet the June 21 start date,” MacDonald said.

He said the $6.4 million renovation estimate is for all aspects of the project.

“This includes considerable work to the marine facilities, rebuilding of the exterior on-land facilities, including [the] customs plaza, booths, etc. on the leased portion of the property and rebuilding of the interior of the existing terminal building, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities inside,” MacDonald said.

Cornell Knight, town manager for Bar Harbor, said the higher cost estimate is not completely unexpected. The prior estimate of $3.75 million was a little dated, he said, and many cities and towns in Maine are having to deal with increases in construction costs.

“Everybody is having this problem,” Knight said. “[Construction] bids are coming in much higher than budgets.”

He added that the town is not concerned about the costs affecting the pending ferry service or the town’s five-year lease with Bay Ferries, which will provide the town with annual payments that add up to a guaranteed total of at least $1 million.

“I think this is going to be a big project for Bar Harbor and for Nova Scotia,” Knight said.

The ferry terminal has not been used since prior ferry service between Bar Harbor and Canada was canceled in 2009, when a decision by the province to eliminate subsidies prompted Bay Ferries to cease operations across the Gulf of Maine. Ferry service between Portland and Nova Scotia was revived in 2014, after a change in provincial leadership, and has been operated by Bay Ferries for the past three years.

According to a report Wednesday by the CBC, over the past three years Nova Scotia taxpayers have paid more than $37 million ($28 million in U.S. funds) to subsidize operations and pay for capital improvements.

Operating challenges on the congested Portland waterfront, and the higher expense of traveling a greater distance between Nova Scotia and southern Maine, prompted Bay Ferries to decide this past year to relocate to Bar Harbor.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....