New Chebeague Island ferry needs Yarmouth's OK

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YARMOUTH — Town councilors are being asked to approve replacement of the Chebeague Transportation Co. ferry, and are considering a moratorium on retail marijuana sales and social clubs.

Councilors in an Aug. 3 workshop also said they plan to hear a report at their Aug. 17 meeting on suggested improvements to the Route 1-Portland Street intersection. 

With consent from the Town Council, the Chebeague Transportation Co. will replace the 32-year-old Islander ferry with a new, slightly larger vessel, built by Washburn & Doughty Associates in East Boothbay. The new ferry, however, will not exceed the Islander’s maximum capacity of 119 passengers and three crew members.

According to CTC Vice President Gilbert Eaton, the new vessel will look just like the Islander to the untrained eye. However a slight increase in vessel size became necessary to accommodate the same 119 passengers after the U.S. Coast Guard increased its assumed average weight per person from 160 pounds to 185 pounds in 2012. 

The CTC is a nonprofit corporation managed by a volunteer board of directors elected by the members of the corporation. The town of Yarmouth is unaffiliated with the CTC and not financially responsible for funding the new vessel, but because the CTC uses the Cousins Island dock, the town is required to approve the change. 

According to CTC General Manager Carol Sabasteanski, the current cost estimate for the new vessel is between $1.1 and $1.2 million. Sabasteanski estimated that the new vessel will be built and running by early 2019.

Town Manager Nat Tupper said the company has been advocating to replace The Islander for more than two years.

“It’s reaching the end of its useful life,” Tupper said. 

The Islander has served as the principal ferry for transportation to and from Chebeague Island for more than 30 years, he said. 

“It will come as no surprise to you that design standards for boats have changed,” Tupper told councilors. “By necessity, the replacement vessel will be larger in order to accommodate the same passenger count … (there will be) no change in the schedule, no change in the operating hours, no changes other than the boat.” 

Tupper’s drafted suggestion for the council at its Aug. 17 meeting will be to consent to the request to replace the ferry.

The council also discussed a temporary prohibition on retail marijuana sales and social clubs. 

A moratorium will give the town 180 days to decide whether it would like to permanently regulate or ban the sale of retail marijuana.

“(The moratorium) just buys us the six months and no one could come in and request permitting to open up social clubs where they’re delivering (marijuana),” Council Chairman Pat Thompson said. 

Councilors agreed with Tupper’s suggestion to schedule an Aug. 17 vote. Prior to that, the council will hear public comment. 

Tupper noted the council is leaning towards an “outright prohibition as a long-term solution,” but a moratorium would allow time for community conversations in September and October. 

Should the town eventually move to permanently prohibit the sale of retail marijuana and social clubs, the state law that became effective Jan. 31, 2017, to allows personal cultivation and possession of up to 2.5 ounces by adults 21 and older, will remain legal. 

“Once we adopt a moratorium, that will set in motion a thorough review,” Tupper said. “At the end of 180 days, if (the council has) made substantial progress, and simply needs more time, the law does provide for you to extend (the moratorium) … (but) I don’t believe you have a third shot.”

Also on Aug. 17, the council will learn more about the Route 1-Portland Street intersection from Gorrill-Palmer Engineers, a civil engineering firm in South Portland.

“Last winter there was some buzz going on in the community about how people don’t like going through the intersection on Portland Street and Route 1,” Tupper said. “People are uncomfortable because lanes don’t line up and (they) can’t tell if people are going straight and left in front of (them).”

Tupper noted the few accidents reported at the intersection are very low-speed fender benders. 

“The original buzz that was created on this issue I think has a lot to do with, not necessarily whether or not there were any accidents at that particular corner, but the fact that it’s close to the high school and the number of people who come through there … are newly licensed drivers,” Thompson added. 

One resident, Donna Felker, of Hillcrest Avenue, shared her concern about the intersection, regarding pedestrians rather than traffic. 

“The timing of the light there to try to cross Route 1 doesn’t allow for people to get entirely across the road,” Felker said. “I would hope within the report that (Gorrill-Palmer) would be addressing the pedestrians crossing along with the vehicles.” 

Thompson said she believed the report would address pedestrian crossing and urged anyone concerned to attend the next council meeting. Councilors could move to approve the project on Aug. 17, but Thompson said she expects the town will take longer to consider the issue. 

“It is an expensive fix no matter how anybody slices this … (but) it’s a pretty critical corner,” she said. “We’re all anxious to hear how (Gorrill-Palmer wants to) address those issues … I just want everyone to hear their suggestions.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Yarmouth is being asked to approve the replacement of The Islander ferry, which provides service to Chebeague Island from Cousins Island.