The province and the partners in a Yarmouth-Maine ferry venture have a signed deal, one of the major chips needed to fall into place for service to start in May.
Economic and Rural Development and Tourism Minister Michel Samson announced the agreement on Tuesday, calling it an "important milestone." It includes allowing the province to have a closer look at the ferry service's books.
The previous NDP government had announced an agreement shortly before the September election call, but Samson said no one had formally signed it.
The deal is with Singapore-based ST Marine, and Quest Navigation of Maine, which will form a venture called STM Quest Inc. It will operate under the name Nova Star Cruises.
Other agreements still have to be reached for the service to start next year, including border services for both ports, upgrades to the Yarmouth ferry terminal, berthing agreements with the two port authorities, and obtaining licences and permits fo ra ferry service.
All of those are on track, said David Oxner, executive director of the Nova Scotia Gateway Secretariat.
The agreement with the province has some changes to details in the letter of offer previously announced.
Samson said a key change for the province is being able to look at the ferry service's books.
"This will increase accountablity to Nova Scotians, something that I and our government place a lot of importance on," Samson told a Halifax news conference.
The deal also clarifies that ST Marine will put $3 million into the venture after the province provides its $21 million, which is scheduled to happen over seven years. The province is contributing $10.5 million for startup costs and $1.5 million a year for marketing efforts.
There are also clearer details on senior managers deferring part of their salaries if the ferry service loses money in a given year. The original letter of offer said four people could see half their pay deferred.
STM Quest plans service from May 1 to November 2 next year. The boat, called the Nova Star, would leave Yarmouth at 9 a.m., and arrive in Portland at 5 p.m., local time. It would leave Portland at 8 p.m., and get to Yarmouth at 7 a.m., local time.
Steve Durrell, chief operating officer of Quest Navigation, said the company is committed to the ferry's long-term success and expects everything will be ready for the spring.
"We are extremely confident we'll be able to meet that date," he said via teleconference.
Durrell said marketing plans are underway, and ads have been secured in some key Nova Scotia and Maine publications.
In Yarmouth, members of the three local municipalities met with International Ferry partnership co-chair Keith Condon, to discuss the Yarmouth ferry terminal, owned by the federal government.
The terminal must be divested and will eventually be owned by the Yarmouth and Area Industrial Commission.
Condon told the teleconference that good news came just after 2 p.m.
“Our MP Greg Kerr has just called us and told us that our proposal for funding...has been approved,” he said about money needed to improve the existing ferry terminal.
“We are moving fast here,” Condon said about a plan they've been working on since January.
He said meetings are planned with Canada Border Services officials and engineers about the state of the 1950's era ferry terminal.
“The plan is to rejuvenate the current property for a two to three year period while we design a new terminal.”
He said they expect to have between $2.6 million and $3 million to work with. Kerr could not be reached Tuesday, but is expected to provide details this week.
Much of the money will be used to install new equipment and also to repair pieces of floating dock that will be used for a long time.
“It's not all for short term (use),” Condon said.
Yarmouth County's three municipalities will cost share in the amount, with the feds providing 80 per cent in what he called stage one.
Stage two is replacement of the entire terminal, he said.
“Those discussions are ongoing,” said Condon.
“People and business operators from our town and around the region are ramping up now, poised to make the most of the new ferry service once it arrives,” said Yarmouth's mayor Pam Mood.
The local area will be ready to welcome the Nova Star in just six months time, she said.
Local officials and Yarmouth MLA Zach Churchill, also the Natural Resources minister, said the economy was hit hard with the end of the previous ferry service. It stopped running after the previous government ended subsidies close to four years ago.