By Kim MacIsaac
For nearly 150 years the Casco Bay islands of Peaks, Long, Little and Great Diamond, Cliff, and Chebeague have been served by numerous ferry lines which, by 1920, had coalesced into Casco Bay Lines.
Prior to 1982, Casco Bay Lines was a privately-owned company operating passenger boats from Custom House Wharf, and the Peaks car ferry from Portland Pier. Due to mismanagement and, some would argue, greediness on the part of the owners, the company was about to go belly up, thereby leaving islanders with no ferry transportation to Portland.
In response, a group of islanders led by the Casco Bay Island Development Association (now known as the Casco Bay Islands Alliance) established the Casco Bay Island Transit District. CBITD is a quasi-municipal entity whose mission is to serve the transportation needs of island residents.
Clearly, that mission is no longer being met as originally intended.
For many years, the elected governing board has been somewhat of a “closed” entity, and there has been little communication with the people it is supposed to serve, and little input from islanders on projects that are supposed to improve transportation to the islands. Most people find it nearly impossible to attend a 7:45 a.m. CBITD board meeting.
The planned new Peaks boat is a prime example of the lack of communication between CBITD and islanders. For some time, there had been talk about the need for a new boat. I, like many islanders, was stunned to hear that it is to be a 600-passenger ferry that also takes many more cars than the current Machigonne. It seems that the board and the Vessel Advisory Committee have not considered the impact that such a large boat would have on Peaks and, by extension, the down-the-bay islands.
My concerns are:
- Daytrippers already overwhelm Peaks in July and August, and on weekends in June and September: A larger boat will bring more daytrippers, adding to the congestion near the landing. Most of our small businesses are located in this area, and as a seasonal island business owner, I am already at capacity and would find it difficult to handle more customers. How will our handful of small businesses deal with more daytrippers?
- The environment: I live in the business zone “down front.” I have found empty bottles and cans in my front yard. I’ve found daytrippers cutting flowers in my garden because they’re “so pretty.” What are they doing in other parts of the island where no one is watching? Our island environment is fragile.
- Fiscal: A larger boat consumes more fuel (more expensive to operate). How can CBITD justify running such a large boat, especially in the winter months, when traffic is light?
- The ferry schedule: It seems logical that a larger boat will take longer to load and unload. Has CBITD taken this into consideration?
- Grant Funding: CBITD received a sizeable federal grant to help underwrite the cost of the new boat. In my professional life, I wrote many successful federal grants. Each came with requirements and conditions to be met, one of which was to engage the communities and people who would be impacted by the project for which the grant was being requested. It seems CBITD has not made much of an effort to reach out to islanders as the new boat was being designed.
- Safety and parking: The small lot adjacent to the Peaks wharf is filled by 9 a.m.; there is very little on-street parking. The sidewalks and streets are crowded with pedestrians, bicycles, golf carts, skateboards, and cars all vying for space. The congestion increases when the ferry is off-loading and on-loading people, cars and freight.
So, how can we counter this new boat project that serves only to make our daily lives more challenging?
We cannot prevent daytrippers from coming. The Maine Office of Tourism markets Maine all over the U.S. and Canada. Its marketing materials invite people to visit Portland and the beautiful Casco Bay Islands. Additionally, many Maine travel guides direct people to Portland/Casco Bay and often recommend taking the ferry to Peaks, as do the travel sections of major out-of-state newspapers.
One thing we can do is rise up as a united group and demand that the CBITD board opens the lines of communication with the people it was elected to serve. We deserve a clear and detailed explanation of the need for a new boat; how the design process has progressed; and how the project will be funded.
Is the design a done deal or is there time to revise the design based on input from islanders? Has a contract been awarded to build the boat?
The comments I’ve made here reflect my personal views of how the CBITD board functions. They in no way reflect my views of the crew and frontline staff who provide efficient day to day service to the islands.
Kim MacIsaac is a lifelong resident of Peaks Island. She has researched, written, and lectured about Peaks Island history for nearly 40 years.