Is ‘Idle Some More’ back for another season?

It’s the end of February, so it must be time for Bay Ferries to announce the start of this year’s summer sailing season between Yarmouth and Bar Harbor. And for the rest of us to ask if it will really happen this year.

Perhaps not exactly as advertised. Always read the fine print.

Shall we begin a new round of our favourite game show, “Idle Some More: 2020 Edition.” On Friday, Bay Ferries pinned the tail on June 26th as the official start-up date for this year’s summer ferry service between Yarmouth, NS, and Bar Harbor, ME. Well… not definitively pinned.

That’s just its “planned” start-up date. If everything goes according to hope and prayer and US Customs and Border Protection.

“Depending on construction progress at the Bar Harbor terminal, and other operational preparations,” a company statement stated, “the start date could be moved to an earlier date, in which case a further announcement will be forthcoming.”

Oh yes, and… or…  but… on the other foot:

“In the event of any unexpected delay beyond (the June 26) date caused by unforeseen circumstances, customers will be advised immediately.”

Thanks for that.

Fans of last year’s game will remember the official launch date then was June 21, 2019. But then there was that… uh… failure to launch, followed by a series of increasingly distant, increasingly less precise “mid-summer,” “sometime” beginning dates, leading to an ex-post-facto announcement the 2019 sailing season had ended without ever having begun.

None of that amusement came cheap. On the same day Bay Ferries was declaring itself open for 2020 bookings, Zach Churchill, the province’s minister of education and ferries, released figures showing last year’s non-service had cost us $17.8 million. That’s $4 million more than the government originally budgeted as its cost for actually running a ferry service, and it includes

  • an additional $1.6 million to not yet meet US border requirements,
  • plus another $2.4 million to keep the ship, its crew and the terminals on standby for the entire season without beginning.

We’ll have a better idea — though nothing definitive, of course — about how much the government is projecting the ferry will cost us this year when it introduces its budget later this week.

Last year’s pre-non-season promo.

Let’s begin near the end, because the beginning is already more than $60-painful million in the rearview.

Sometime after the end of its 2018 ferry season, Bay Ferries announced it would move its US terminal from Portland (renovations previously paid for by Nova Scotia taxpayers) to Bar Harbor ($8.5 million in new marine terminal renovations, also to be paid for by Nova Scotia taxpayers).

For reasons that passeth all understanding — Portland apparently had offered to extend the use of its port facilities for another year — Bay Ferries pressed forward with its plan… with unseemly sluggishness.

Early version of proposed Bar Harbor Terminal. No longer exactly as illustrated either.

Bar Harbor’s public hearing on Bay Ferries’ proposed renovations and upgrades didn’t even take place until February 27, 2019—just four months before The Cat was supposed to start operations.

And then, later, we learned this. US border services has to approve — and then sign off on — those upgrades. “Generally, these types of projects take 12 to 18 months,” a border services spokesman told Canadian Press. And worse. “That time frame was shared with the ferry operator going back to at least 2017.”

So… let’s say 12–18 months from the end of February 2019? Maybe the terminal will really be ready for June 26th.

Or August 26th?

Or…?

The reality is there still appears to be much to be done just to complete work on the Bar Harbor Terminal. According to a report by Tina Comeau in Saturday’s Chronicle Herald, that remaining work includes:

  • Completion of the exterior primary inspection canopy area and installation of officers’ booths and various inspection equipment.
  • Completion of exterior secondary inspection and outbound inspection areas.
  • Some site preparation work including completion of paving and installation of fencing and other security measures.
  • Completion of interior of the terminal building and installation of the equipment and fittings necessary for USCBP to operate the border facility.

That seems like a significant amount of work that — even after it’s completed — will still need to be approved by US Border Services before a single passenger can land or leave.

And then there was this:

“The company notes the redesign and reconstruction of the Bar Harbor facility has been challenging due to the limited land and building footprint available.”

Wait a minute. Bay Ferries must have decided before the end of the 2018 sailing season it would not try to renew its lease in Portland but move on to Bar Harbor instead. Did no one from Bay Ferries ever visit Bar Harbor to determine whether the site would be “challenging?” Did no one from the Nova Scotia government — which apparently agreed to foot the bill for the entire project, site unseen —ask to even see the plans?

Welcome back. The game continues.

This column first appeared in the Halifax Examiner February 24, 2020.

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