By Tina Comeau
Two companies have expressed interest in providing a ferry service between Yarmouth and Maine.
A committee made up of representatives from various provincial departments and the private sector will now evaluate the proposals. The province says this evaluation will take about a month. The evaluation will be based on the criteria that has been set out for a ferry service.
After issuing an official request for proposals (RFP) on Dec. 7, people were waiting with anticipation to find out how many proposals had been submitted. The government released this information shortly after the RFP closed on Thursday afternoon, Jan. 24, saying there has been two.
The two companies are said to be from the United States, but there was little other information offered about them by the government, and in the case of one of the companies, little information to be found online. The two companies that have submitted proposals are Quest Navigation Inc., said to be from Maine, and Maritime Applied Physics Corporation, of Baltimore, Maryland.
“To me the bottom line is that we have a sustainable ferry service for this area, I think this is what we need to stay focused on,” Sterling Belliveau, the province’s fisheries minister (speaking on behalf of Percy Paris, the province’s minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism) told the Vanguard on Thursday afternoon. “To me it's a positive step. I’m cautiously optimistic but I know that there is going to be a component in there regarding partnerships and especially the federal government.”
It has been stated that Yarmouth will need a new ferry terminal for a new ferry service.
This, coupled with the fact that the federal government is financially involved in other ferry services in the Atlantic provinces, says Belliveau, is why a federal government partnership is key for a resumption of ferry service.
“We have to have a federal partnership in this plan to move forward to get a sustainable ferry for this area,” he said. “Our provincial money, the $21 million, is committed, it’s on the table. I’d love for our federal MPs, local MPs, Nova Scotia MPs to step up to the table and start banging their fists on the table and say let’s meet and match the dollars.”
The provincial government has stated that a ferry service needs to be commercially viable. The government has said that it will provide up to $21 million over seven years to an experienced ferry operator with a sound business plan that shows a ferry service will be sustainable within seven years.
"I'm pleased that we have received proposals,” said Belliveau. “We need to ensure that if there is a new ferry service it will be the right one for Nova Scotia – viable and stable in the long term, and in the best interests of taxpayers."
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Belliveau said he knew little about the companies who had submitted proposals.
“I can tell you that they’re two USA companies . . . I know that they’ve each submitted a proposal and they’re going to be evaluated over the next month. And that’s my limited knowledge of these companies.”
Last year an expert panel reviewed studies and met with people and groups to identify the conditions needed for a viable ferry service. In its report released Sept. 7 the panel said a cruise-type service could be viable in the long term if it provides a high quality on-board experience, is supported with a sophisticated marketing strategy and leverages a strong tourist experience in south west Nova Scotia.
Asked if the government was expecting more proposals to be submitted in the RFP, Belliveau said he had not heard of or seen any preference when it came to numbers.
“There’s only limited companies that do this work around the world,” he said. “To me it’s a good starting point.”
The two opposition MLAs from Yarmouth and Argyle have been very critical of the government and its handling of the ferry issue over the years.
Asked for his reaction to the close of the RFPs, Yarmouth MLA Zach Churchill said, “I, along with everyone else, was hoping that more companies would have come forward, but we only need one – the right one – to make this work under the current conditions. I’m not sure how this process is being managed at the provincial level or what sort of push the government made to seek companies for this bid, nor do I know much about either company that came forward, but I am hopeful that this process will result in the return of our ferry.”
Churchill added everyone is still waiting to hear how the federal government intends to step up with the ferry terminal.
“Those federal dollars are needed if this is going to come together,” he said. “In the meantime, I hold my breath like everyone else as we wait to see the final result of this. The premier has taken on responsibility for the return of our ferry and now he needs to deliver.”
Argyle MLA Chris d’Entremont told the Vanguard, “I'm pretty happy with the result so far. We had been hearing that there were two or three real companies interested in providing a service. Let's see what happens next.”
At the time of this posting the Vanguard had not yet been able to make contact with anyone from either of the two companies that submitted proposals.