The Portland City Council is scheduled to vote Monday on a proposed lease agreement for the new ferry service between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, that is expected to bring about $150,000 in revenue to the city each year with no up-front cost to taxpayers.

The deal with ferry operator Bay Ferries Ltd. received a unanimous recommendation from the council’s Economic Development Committee on Tuesday, Portland City Councilor David Brenerman said. It establishes the ferry’s operating season, arrival and departure times, fees and other financial responsibilities, he said.

Under the agreement, all costs associated with modifying or renovating the ferry ramp and terminal building would be the responsibility of Bay Ferries, Brenerman said. The city spent roughly $1 million to modify the Ocean Gateway terminal when ferry service to Nova Scotia was re-established by Nova Star Cruises in 2014.

The new ferry, called The Cat, would use the same building for ticketing and departure that the Nova Star used during its first season – a one-story, gray concrete block building to the left of Ocean Gateway facing the water, Portland Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell said.

The lease agreement also establishes the amount Portland will receive from Bay Ferries for leasing the terminal, and for passenger and vehicle fees. Brenerman said the city estimates it will receive about $150,000 each operating season. That’s less than half the amount it received from the Nova Star during each of that ferry’s two seasons in 2014 and 2015.

Mitchell said the $150,000 estimate is “very conservative” because much of the city’s revenue will come from passenger and vehicle fees, and it is uncertain how many passengers and vehicles will use the ferry.

When Nova Star Cruises resumed the service, it anticipated passenger volumes of 100,000, but it fell far short. In its first season, Nova Star transported 59,000 passengers and then 52,000 passengers the following year. The service ultimately filed for bankruptcy.

Under the agreement, The Cat would be allowed to arrive in Portland as early as June 1. It would arrive at Ocean Gateway terminal at 1:30 p.m. daily and depart no later than 3 p.m.

The ferry service is expected to begin June 15. Bay Ferries has already posted the schedule on its website, along with fares for the new season. It will cost adult passengers $107 one way, and $194 round trip. Car rates are $199 one way and $275 round trip.

With a 2:30 p.m. departure, the ferry will arrive in Nova Scotia at about 9 p.m., after a 5½-hour trip and accounting for the one-hour time difference between Eastern and Atlantic time zones.

The lease deal also requires Bay Ferries to honor nine “blackout dates” in August and September on which the ferry service cannot operate because of anticipated high cruise ship traffic in Portland Harbor, Brenerman said. Blackout dates weren’t necessary for the Nova Star because it arrived and departed in the mornings, he said.

“We try not to have conflicts with cruise ships, so there are some dates … when they can’t run the ferry,” Brenerman said. Eight of the nine blackout dates are in September, when the Cat isn’t expected to have heavy passenger demand, he said.

The proposed agreement prohibits tractor-trailer vehicles from using the ferry, Brenerman said. Only passenger vehicles, recreational vehicles and tour buses would be allowed.

Portland officials were concerned that tractor-trailers would line up on Commercial Street and cause traffic jams while waiting to board the ferry, Brenerman said.

“We have no place for them to park waiting to get on the ship,” he said. “It was just too difficult to arrange that.”

The Cat is 349 feet long, considerably smaller than the 528-foot-long Nova Star. It can carry up to 866 passengers and 282 cars, and its vehicle decks can be reconfigured to accommodate up to 20 buses and 90 cars. The Nova Star’s capacity was 1,212 passengers and 336 cars and/or up to 38 commercial trucks or buses.

The Cat will be less expensive to operate but will lack certain revenue streams available to the Nova Star’s operators, such as cabin rentals.


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