Nova Scotia will pay for improvements at the Portland ferry terminal required by the federal government so international ferry service can resume this summer.

The provincial government will spend as much as $1.5 million for license plate readers and radiation detectors at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility at Portland Ocean Gateway, said Marla MacInnis, a spokeswoman for the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.

“This funding clears the way for the return of the Nova Scotia-Maine ferry service for the 2018 sailing season,” MacInnis said.

The future of the high-speed Cat ferry between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, was thrown into doubt last year, when Customs and Border Protection said it would no longer screen and process passengers without upgrades to make the terminal comply with the department’s standards.

The equipment that Nova Scotia has agreed to pay for is only part of a package of improvements Customs needs, including a new building and inspection booths.

Customs said in December that it would continue inspections in Portland this year if some upgrades were made by the start of this sailing season, and would continue screening for the next two years if Portland came up with a plan by October to complete all the upgrades by the 2021 season.

Agency spokesman Sean Smith declined to comment Thursday on Nova Scotia’s pledge to pay for upgrades, aside from repeating Customs’ commitment to continue inspections in Portland if the city develops and funds an improvement plan.

Portland officials have said the $7 million estimated total cost is too much for the city to pay alone, considering the ferry’s mixed record since service restarted in 2014 after a four-year hiatus.

Mark MacDonald, CEO of Bay Ferries Ltd., the Prince Edward Island company that operates The Cat, said there is no plan yet for future improvements at the terminal.

“That is very much on our horizon right now; the short-term focus is making sure we are operating in a way all parties are satisfied with in the 2018 season,” he said.

The ferry carried 41,463 passengers last year, a 17 percent increase from 2016.

Bay Ferries intends to start the season June 8 and end Oct. 8 this year. The company has started selling early tickets at discounted rates for the 2018 season and is almost finished repairing one of the ship’s engines that broke last year .

“Everything is full speed ahead,” MacDonald said.

Portland spokeswoman Jessica Grondin did not confirm that there is an agreement for Customs to continue screening passengers in Portland.

The City Council has yet to extend its two-year lease on the terminal with Bay Ferries, but the issue will be discussed at the council’s Economic Development Committee meeting Tuesday.

“The city, Bay Ferries, and USCBP are continuing to finalize arrangements for the 2018 ferry season,” Grondin said. “In the meantime, it is business as usual and all of us are looking forward to a strong season and a continuation of last year’s progress.”

The service is considered an essential component of Nova Scotia’s tourism industry, and it received $40 million in Canadian government subsidies during the first two years of the restored service. Bay Ferries, which has a 10-year contract with the Nova Scotia government, received $9.4 million in provincial subsidies last year.

Peter McGuire can be reached at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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