Members of a citizen advisory committee in Bar Harbor walk out on the idle pier at the town's ferry terminal in this 2017 file photo. The town is considering whether it should repair the pier for more than $17 million or demolish and then replace it with a marina for nearly $21 million. Credit: Nick Sambides Jr. / BDN

Repairing or replacing an idle pier at Bar Harbor’s former ferry terminal on Route 3 could cost between $17 million and $21 million, according to a consultant hired by the town.

Bar Harbor commissioned the consultant last fall to evaluate the physical condition of the old pier, which the town acquired in 2018 along with the rest of the ferry terminal property. The pier, which originally was built in 1956, has not been used since 2009, when Bay Ferries ended ferry service between Bar Harbor and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

The town has agreed to lease part of the 7-acre property to Bay Ferries, which has been trying to revive The CAT catamaran ferry service between Bar Harbor and Nova Scotia for the past three years. The CAT operated between Portland and Yarmouth from 2016 through 2018. The town has also been considering how it might repurpose the remainder of the property, with a focus on maintaining its water access and waterfront use.

The site had been considered as a possible location where large cruise ships could dock, but local voters rejected that possible use in a 2019 referendum. Other uses that remain in consideration include public parking, a marina, a boat ramp and docking space for cruise ship tenders transporting passengers to and from shore.

Charlie Phippen, the town’s harbormaster, said that docking space in downtown Bar Harbor is limited. If a new marina is built next to the ferry terminal, he said, “it will be a popular destination. We have outgrown the harbor.”

What to do with the existing pier, which juts more than 700 feet into Frenchman Bay, is key to determining what sort of uses the town should allow at the rest of the ferry terminal property. The firm hired to evaluate the 65-year-old structure, GEI Consultants of Portland, said that making all the needed repairs to the existing wooden pier likely would cost $17.6 million, whereas building a new pier of steel and concrete would cost $20.9 million.

Retaining the pier in its current configuration, however, serves no purpose because vehicles would come and go from The CAT’s stern via a causeway and ramp on the northern edge of the pier, rather than accessing the ferry by driving out onto the pier, as was the case decades ago when different styles of ferries operated between Bar Harbor and Nova Scotia. When docking, The CAT needs only the mooring dolphins, or pilings, on the pier’s northern edge. Removing or rebuilding the remainder of the pier will not prevent The CAT from operating out of Bar Harbor.

Last month, the town’s harbor committee recommended demolishing the existing pier because of its deteriorated physical state. It currently is blocked off to even pedestrian traffic, which is deemed to be too heavy for the pier’s existing load capacity and, though it could be repaired, doing so would only extend its useability for another 25 years, according to the consultant’s report. A new pier built of steel and concrete could last up to 50 or even 75 years.

Last week, the town council discussed the committee’s recommendation, and various ways that the pier could be rebuilt if the town demolishes it. Three different potential configurations of a new pier shown to the council depict how new floats and boat slips and a new ramp could be built off the two existing causeways, each of which extends a few hundred feet into the bay.

After talking about the various options, and how the town might move forward in choosing one and then implementing it, the council decided to hold a public workshop with the harbor committee on the topic in the next couple of months, most likely in early June.

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....