HALIFAX — The heavily subsidized ferry service that links Nova Scotia with Maine cost provincial taxpayers an extra $4 million as it sat idle for the entire 2019 sailing season, the government revealed Friday.
Education Minister Zach Churchill released the figure following an announcement by operator Bay Ferries that it would begin sailing this year between Yarmouth, N.S., and Bar Harbor, Maine, on June 26.
Churchill, who represents the Yarmouth riding, said the overrun is related to costs associated with tying up the ferry and upgrading the U.S. terminal.
"The obvious reason for that is because you are not bringing in revenue if you are not running," Churchill told reporters.
The added cost includes an additional $1.6 million to meet border service requirements at the terminal and $2.4 million to cover the fixed costs of the service, including the crew and terminal leases on both sides of border.
It brings the total cost to the province last year to $17.8 million.
Churchill said the funding would be appreciated in his constituency and surrounding areas, where the estimated value of the tourism industry when the ferry is running is about $70 million.
He said that justifies the extra expense to maintain the service.
"There is a return on investment for Nova Scotians, and it's absolutely critical for the economic sustainability of southwestern Nova Scotia," he said.
The season was scrapped last year when Bay Ferries was unable to get construction work completed in order to meet U.S. Customs and Border Protection specifications at the Bar Harbor ferry terminal.
The work was necessary after the company moved its U.S entry point from Portland, Maine, where the ferry had operated for five years.
In a news release, Bay Ferries said tickets are now on sale for the upcoming season, although it cautioned that some work remains to be completed in Bar Harbor.
Bay Ferries said depending on the progress of construction, sailings could commence earlier or later than the target date. A start-up would also depend on when U.S. authorities approve the terminal work.
"We are grateful for the continued strong support and patience of customers, community partners, and governments as this project has moved toward completion," said company CEO Mark MacDonald.
Bay Ferries said it plans one daily round trip — departing Yarmouth at 9:30 a.m. and departing Bar Harbor at 3 p.m. — until after Labour Day when there will be six crossings per week until October 13.
Last year, work at the terminal forced Bay Ferries to cancel and delay bookings several times before finally suspending them in July.
Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines said he's confident there won't be a repeat of that scenario this year.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston said he will remain skeptical until the ferry actually completes a scheduled run.
"Last year we were hearing right up until late August that there would be a season, so it's hard to take those types of statements at face value," Houston said. "It has the potential to be a very valuable service to Nova Scotians, but only when it leaves the wharf."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb 21, 2020.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press