LePage promises additional aid for Nova Scotia ferry

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PORTLAND — The province of Nova Scotia has agreed to give operators of the Nova Star ferry service another $5 million (Canadian dollars).

Meanwhile, Gov. Paul LePage will introduce legislation to provide the company a $5 million line of credit. Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for LePage, confirmed those plans in an email Wednesday, writing that the ferry’s success has economic benefits for the state. She said details of how the bill would work will be released later.

“As the legislative session becomes imminent, we will have the opportunity to release those details, including funding mechanisms and sponsors of the legislation,” Bennett said in the email.

Michel Samson, Nova Scotia’s minister of economic and rural development and tourism, said in a news conference Tuesday that a $21 million subsidy approved by the province’s previous government was not enough to cover outstanding costs for the service’s maiden season.

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“While we’re pleased to see the service gain momentum in recent months, revenues were still not enough to cover costs,” Samson said in a prepared statement. “This confirms that the original $21 million agreement and projections were unrealistic.”

That subsidy was intended to cover the company’s startup costs and provide an annual marketing budget for seven years.

The new financial commitment comes with new terms that require ferry operator Nova Star Cruises to provide regular reports and projections of its cash flow weekly and twice weekly reports on bookings, in addition to other business information.

“We’re helping Nova Star cover these costs, with more reporting required by the company and more monitoring to protect taxpayers,” Samson said.

Samson said in the news release that LePage has promised to boost Maine’s support for the service as well.

“During a recent discussion, Maine Gov. Paul LePage committed to Mr. Samson that he will introduce legislation to allow Maine to provide a $5 million line of credit to Nova Star,” the statement said.

LePage faces a tight contest for re-election, and Maine voters will elect a new Legislature in November before lawmakers could consider such legislation.

The Chronicle Herald reported in August that Samson planned to travel to Maine for a meeting with LePage. Samson said Tuesday that he expects Maine to help.

“I expect others who benefit from the ferry to contribute. We’re doing everything we can to have others pay their share,” Samson said.

LePage previously promised that state officials would help the service secure a line of credit, something Finance Authority of Maine spokesman Bill Norbert said in June that the state financing authority could not do alone. Norbert said in an email Wednesday that he had no update in the status of discussions with Nova Star officials.

The latest infusion of cash from the province comes as the service continues to seek a winter route, so the ferry service can continue generating revenue through the off-season for the Portland-Nova Scotia run.

Dennis Bailey, a spokesman for the ferry operator, said in an email Wednesday that the company is still in discussions with several potential winter operators but has not secured a final agreement.

Samson said that the province also is helping in that effort. While the service’s first season received about 60 percent of the total passengers the company projected before its launch in the spring, Samson said that it did yield some economic benefit for the province, with passengers spending an estimated $13 million in the province through the sailing season.

The ferry service concluded its sailing season Monday.

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