Portland’s Housing and Community Development Committee on Wednesday voted unanimously to support a lease agreement at Ocean Gateway for a new ferry service between the city and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.
The lease, which could generate $150,000 to $400,000 a year for the city, will be taken up by the full City Council on April 7.
The ferry service is expected to begin operating May 1, but Nova Star Cruises has not yet received two federal permits required to begin marketing and selling tickets.
“We’re working diligently to get the vessel into operation,” said Mark Amundsen, president and chief executive officer of Nova Star Cruises.
Amundsen said the Nova Star is scheduled to leave Singapore on Friday, bound for Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. It will then head to Portland where the U.S. Coast Guard will conduct final inspections.
After Wednesday’s meeting, Amundsen said the company has filed its permit applications with the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission, which has a 60-day window to review them. Unless there are significant problems with the application, the permits should be issued soon, he said.
“It won’t take 60 days,” he said. “It takes only three or four days.”
Nova Star Cruises also announced Wednesday that it had hired two terminal managers.
Eric Junker will be director of operations in Portland, and Mark Muise will hold the same title in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Junker graduated in 1979 from the Southern Maine Vocational Technical College, now Southern Maine Community College. He currently works for Americana Maritime Service, a vessel-operating, brokering and consulting service in San Rafael, Calif.
The Nova Star has 163 cabins and a capacity of 1,215 passengers. The ferry will offer table games, slot machines, a spa and fine dining. It will also carry private and commercial vehicles and operate seven days a week from May 1 to Oct. 31.
The lease endorsed by the committee would cover the first two years of operations, with renewal options for up to five additional years. Nova Star Cruises would pay $19,200 a year to lease space at the Ocean Gateway terminal, and would pay $225,000 for upgrades to accommodate new U.S. Customs and Border Control staff.
“We feel its a fair market value,” said Greg Mitchell, the city’s economic development director. “It’s a bare bones facility.”
Mitchell said the Portland Development Corp. on Thursday will consider giving Nova Star Cruises a loan to make the security upgrades. If Portland Development does not grant the loan, the company will have to find another source of funding, Mitchell said.
The province of Nova Scotia has agreed to give the ferry operator $21 million over seven years to subsidize the service.
The latest agreement allows Nova Star Cruises to use $2 million of that $21 million commitment to post a bond with the Federal Maritime Commission.
To date, the province has provided nearly $6.8 million to the company.
Councilor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. raised several concerns about the impact of the ferry on the waterfront. Islanders, he said, are worried about losing access to parking on Commercial Street. Automobile traffic from the ferry was also a concern, he said.
However, Kathy Alves, the director of operations for the Ocean Gateway, said the city will not prohibit on-street parking on Commercial and Thames streets, as it does with cruise ships. If parking issues arise, the city would consider adopting a residential parking permit program for islanders, she said.
Vehicles would be allowed to line up from 5 to 11 p.m., according to a memo to the committee, and the vessel would be berthed from 7 to 11 p.m., when it would leave for Nova Scotia.
Meanwhile, the traffic light at Commercial and Franklin streets would be adjusted to handle the increased traffic loads, Alves said.
Nova Star Cruises would also use a building on the north end of the property for offices and ticketing operations.
Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: