Yarmouth-Maine ferry to launch season on July 15 despite COVID-19

The ferry between Yarmouth, N.S., and Bar Harbor, Maine, is set to begin its season on July 15 despite the challenges and restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ferry service, operated by Bay Ferries Ltd. and known as the CAT, will not be operating daily crossings when the season is scheduled to begin.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia’s operating grant for Maine ferry reaches new high at $16.3M for 2020 season

Instead, the CAT will carry out crossings on Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays in July. The opening week will see the ferry operate on a modified schedule of Wednesday and Friday.

In August, the CAT will carry out crossings every day except Wednesdays.

But even the preliminary schedule is subject to change.

Story continues below advertisement

Premier Stephen McNeil told media on Thursday that COVID-19 restrictions from the federal government on cross-border transport will make for a challenging season.

“There are certainly going to be impacts. To what extent? I’m not sure at this point,” he said.

1:56 Transportation minister focused on 2020 sailing season for Yarmouth to Maine

Transportation minister focused on 2020 sailing season for Yarmouth to Maine

Lloyd Hines, minister of transportation and infrastructure renewal, went even further, saying that the province will look to incorporate a wide range of views — including those of Nova Scotia’s public health officials, the federal government and its partners in Maine — to determine when it’s safe to resume service.

“It’s extremely important to our communities that we serve,” said Hines.

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

“They must be assured that the service resumes in a way that is protective and that these communities are ready to welcome visitors.”

The service is heavily subsidized by the province as part of a 10-year deal inked in 2016.

At $16.3 million, the subsidy for the upcoming season is expected to be the highest single-year subsidy for the service since the deal began.

READ MORE: Idled Nova Scotia to Maine ferry cost province extra $4M in 2019

The service has been described as a boon for tourism and the economy of rural Nova Scotia.

Story continues below advertisement

But the service has received its share of criticism, and the Nova Scotia government has yet to conduct an economic impact assessment that would provide details on what effects, if any, the service has had in rural Nova Scotia.

The service’s first commercial crossing to Bar Harbor has faced repeated setbacks.

2:08 Bay Ferries CEO faces questions over Bar Harbor service at Nova Scotia legislature

Bay Ferries CEO faces questions over Bar Harbor service at Nova Scotia legislature

The ferry sat idle last year, as there were no commercial crossings during what was supposed to be the inaugural season sailing to Bar Harbor.

But the move was plagued by delays as U.S. Customs and Border Protection ordered renovations to the Bar Harbor terminal building before it would put agents in place to process ferry passengers.

The renovations at the terminal include the demolition of existing buildings outside the terminal’s customs area as well as several outbuildings and portions of the ferry terminal’s interior.

Hines said the Bar Harbor terminal should be ready to go by the time crossing begins.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.