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Small Maine town asks lawmakers to remove a regulation

People on Matinicus Island are calling for more visits from the Maine State Ferry Service

AUGUSTA, Maine — When you live 23 miles out to sea, it may be easy to forget you’re connected to the rest of Maine.

But people on Matinicus Island, which has about 30 year-round residents—have a regular reminder of that connection to the state: the ferry that makes the trip once a month in winter, more often in warmer weather.

And that link to the mainland is why the island is asking the Legislature for help.

There is a state law that says the Maine State Ferry Service can’t make more than 36 ferry trips per year to Matinicus. Town Clerk Eva Murray, who is also the chair of the Ferry Service advisory board, said Matinicus relies on the ferry to bring in everything from propane and heating oil to lumber for houses. She said last year they reached the maximum number of trips. 

“It is the way of getting stuff out here that has to come by vehicle and, in the case of trash and recycling, get stuff off here that has to go by vehicle."

She thinks it's time for the restriction on the number of ferry trips to be eliminated.

“So there has been an increased need for that traffic the last few years and we have been slowly and gradually requesting increased service which last year reached 36 trips per year.”

Rep. Ann Matlack (D-St. George) is sponsoring the Matrinicus bill to remove the ferry cap, which had its public hearing Thursday. 

“I think being able to allow the number of runs needed to do the work for the island should be left to those who know the operation of the ferry,” Matlack said.

But it isn’t clear if the Ferry Service wants more trips. At the public hearing Maine DOT, which operates the service, said that because they have lost $3 million in revenue statewide due to COVID, any added service on the system is “not financially practical.” 

Rep. Matlack and Eva Murray say there would not necessarily be any added cost or added trips needed his year. They just want their link to the world to be a little more flexible, so as demand grows the number of ferry trips can potentially grow with it. 

“All we’re doing is removing an arbitrary limit that nobody can remember why it would be there,” Murray said.

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