Why We Should Care About the Islesboro Ferry

By Vicki Doudera | May 10, 2018

Something was tugging at my memory.

I was sitting on a metal folding chair at last Saturday’s Islesboro Town Meeting, in a gym crowded with residents of all ages: toddlers playing with trucks on the bleachers; teens eyeing the muffins and sliced banana bread for sale at the back of the gym; adults perched on their chairs listening to the Select Board. They were discussing the new fares for the Maine State Ferry Service, announced by the Maine Department of Transportation, and what those rates would mean for their community.

It all seemed familiar, as if I’d been involved in a similar discussion in the past.

The new rate, which will take effect statewide on May 21, more than doubles the cost of tickets for year-round Islesboro residents. A round-trip fare for two passengers in a car will leap from the current price of $19.25 to $41. According to Janet Anderson, Islesboro Town Manager, many residents and commuters will be affected directly or indirectly by the fare increase, as about a dozen people commute daily off-island to work, and many more leave for the necessities not found on the island: stores carrying hardware, lumber, and groceries; places to fill prescriptions, have a tooth filled, or get a diagnostic medical test.

What’s at stake, say many residents, is the very existence of the island community.

Islanders had been expecting some sort of increase, despite the fact that they are the only island funding more than 50 percent of the cost of their ferry with their revenue, but the across-the-board jump took everyone by surprise. They are requesting the MDOT Ferry Service delay implementation of the new fare structure and consider alternative fare plans such as a reasonable, across-the-board percentage increase on all present rates, and/or a new winter/summer rate differential.

It wasn’t until I boiled the situation down to the bare bones – until I was on the ferry heading home – that I recognized why the island’s struggle with the Maine DOT had resonance. It comes down to a governmental agency making a seemingly blanket decision with sweeping implications for a community’s survival – a scenario that played out in Camden back in 1990, when the U. S. Postal Service announced they were closing the historic Chestnut Street post office. At the time, Postal Service officials insisted the building was too small and they were on the lookout for an appropriate site to construct a new, out-of-town facility.

Camden mobilized. I found myself serving alongside the formidable Chris and Rosalee Glass on an ad-hoc committee, ably co-chaired by Beedy Parker and Rendle Jones, charged by the Select Board to save the existing post office. Chris drew up plans to expand the current 1915 building; the parking committee worked to find additional spaces; people called and wrote anyone they knew who might have influence. Everyone in town recognized that the post office was more than just a historic brick building – it was an anchor of village life. Our struggle was real and pressing: the very heart of Camden was in the balance.

Carol des Lauriers Cieri summed it up well in a 1991 Down East Magazine article detailing that long-ago struggle. “Almost anything small is fragile,” she said, words that could be used today to describe the fate of the island community only fifteen minutes’ ride from our shores.

Islesboro needs and would benefit from support in the entire Midcoast region: individuals and families, businesses and governmental bodies. Last night the Belfast City Council voted unanimously to support Islesboro in their opposition to the Maine State Ferry System’s proposal, and our mainland towns should do the same. After all, perhaps some of us are on those ferries at 8 a.m., commuting to jobs as carpenters, painters and tradespeople, so this fare increase will hit us squarely in the pocketbook. Some of us may be among the twenty or so magnet school students who ferry out to attend the Islesboro school – or we may be the parents, or grandparents, of those students. Some of us may teach at the school, sell property on the island, or visit friends who live there – the reasons go on and on.

The damage that these proposed fares will do to the Midcoast region could be considerable. But maybe, just maybe, we ought to show our concern, write letters and make phone calls to our representatives, the Maine State Ferry Service, to the MDOT Commissioner, and to the Governor, because we ourselves were here before, not so very long ago, and we know what really matters: keeping a small and vital community alive.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.