The only ferry company that provides passage to Isle au Haut is on the hunt for money after it learned its dock in Stonington will need significant repairs in the next few years to continue its ferry runs.
Isle au Haut Boat Services, a nonprofit that brings the mail and shepherds thousands of passengers every year on the 45-minute crossing to the small Knox County Island, recently found out that a sizable portion of the dock on Seabreeze Avenue has rot or cracks.
The company said it’s unlikely the dock will last for more than three more years.
If not repaired, the boatline could be left without a safe place to land in Stonington, potentially stranding islanders without mail or any ferry service, as well as cutting off a part of Acadia National Park to people who don’t have a boat.
Garrett Aldrich, the boat company’s captain, said estimates for repairs place the work at about $1.6 million — a price tag that will likely rise the longer it takes for the work to be done.
“We need to have some replacement done to keep functioning,” he said.
The boat service, which owns the dock and lands at the town dock in Isle au Haut, does receive an annual $50,000 stipend from the town and has a contract to deliver mail to the island. But it does not bring in enough money to cover the costs of the repairs, according to the boat service.
“We kind of rely on donations,” Aldrich said. “The season is so short, we can’t make enough money to pay for everything.”
According to the boat service’s 2020 nonprofit tax filling, it brought in $765,880 in 2019 and $695,035 in 2020. Its total net assets in 2020 were listed as $1.7 million.
The mailboat has turned to Stonington for aid in its attempts to get state grants and Aldrich said the boat company has several other grant opportunities in the works.
If money doesn’t start to flow in, Aldrich isn’t sure what the ferry will do. Dock space comes at a premium and there are few other docks in Stonington that could accommodate the boat service and the amount of long-term parking that a ferry service needs.
“We’re kind of an extension of Route 15,” he said. “We need a place to land [the boats]. If we don’t come through with some funding, I don’t know who steps in to help in these situations.”
Isle au Haut has a year-round population of about 60 people that can swell to more than 250 people in the summer. The island is also home to a portion of Acadia National Park and has become more increasingly popular with daytrippers, according to the boat company.
In 2021, there were 19,450 fares for non-island residents, an increase of 213 percent compared to 2020 and a 33 percent jump from 2019, according to a town report. Resident fares which are run at a discounted rate, were down 33 percent in 2021 compared to 2019.
While the alarm bells aren’t quite sounding yet on Isle au Haut, the town is aware of the issue and willing to help however it can.
“It is a big concern,” said Peggi Stevens, an island select board member. “The boat company is a bit of a lifeline to Isle au Haut.”
The boat service is the only one that ferries people between Isle au Haut and Stonington in the winter, a time of year when the company loses money. It also responds to the island for medical emergencies. In the summer, the company’s two boats also offer tours and charters.
“I think a few people lose some sleep at night,” Stevens said. “I think that (the boat service) is trying all the avenues they can.”