Maine Gov. Paul LePage sent a letter this week to Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter pledging the state’s support for re-establishing ferry service between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and plugging an Eliot firm’s bid to provide it.

“Since 2009, Nova Scotia and Maine have missed a critical link between our citizens and economies,” the governor wrote in his July 23 letter. “Speaking on behalf of the people of Maine, we would welcome restoration of this vital service and economic driver.”

Earlier this month, three proposals were submitted to the provincial government to restore service across the Gulf of Maine. The bidders were: P&O Ferries of England, Balearia Caribbean Ltd. of Miami and STM/Quest, a joint venture by Eliot, Maine-based Quest Navigation Inc., Miami-based International Shipping Partners and Singapore-based ST Marine.

LePage’s letter clearly states his preference.

“I have been briefed on the proposal from STM Quest. I understand that there are many factors that your team will need to consider in selecting the proponent that best meets the needs of the service. However, I would like to take this opportunity to formally declare my support for this proposal,” he wrote.

LePage said the state would offer assistance to STM Quest, working closely with the company’s marketing team and allocating state resources for marketing, by securing an operating line of credit for $5 million and by assisting with capital needs on Portland’s waterfront.

The letter does not indicate whether LePage would offer the same support to either of the other two companies that have submitted bids, but his spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said Friday that he’d be willing to speak with other parties.

“This is the one Maine-based company and the only one that has positively identified Portland as a port,” she said.

“It means a lot to have the backing of Gov. LePage.” Mark H. Amundsen, the president of STM Quest, said in a statement issued Friday. “Clearly, he understands the huge value that our ferry service means for tourism, jobs and economic development in Maine and Nova Scotia.”

STM Quest already has a 531-foot ship, the Nova Star, that could carry more than 1,200 passengers and freight as well. Bennett said the governor is interested in adding freight service, if possible.

The other proposals currently under considerations are from P&O Ferries, which owns and operates 20 ferries in England, Holland, France, Belgium and Ireland; and Balearia Carribean, which operates daily service between Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and the Bahamas. Both likely would use Portland as a port but have not said so explicitly.

The Nova Scotia government has not set a deadline for a decision, but Dennis Bailey, a spokesman for STM Quest, said representatives of the partnership would be heading to Canada on Monday to meet with a review committee to discuss their proposal.

The Canadian province already has pledged $21 million over seven years to subsidize the new ferry operation, which would be similar to the Scotia Prince, which ran between Portland and Yarmouth from 1982 to 2004.

The ferry would depart and return from Portland’s Ocean Gateway terminal, a $20.5 million facility jointly owned by the city and state. Bennett said the governor’s proposed $100 million transportation bond that has yet to be approved by lawmakers contains funds that could be used for waterfront infrastructure improvements in Portland to support the ferry service.

By contrast, a voter-approved transportation bond that passed last November does not contain funds that can be used for waterfront improvements in Portland.

The last service, operated by Bay Ferries Ltd., ceased in 2009 because of the economy.

Nova Scotia previously submitted requests for proposals last fall but received only two responses, one from Quest Navigation, the other from a Maryland-based company. Provincial officials said both proposals failed to meet the minimum criteria so they started over.

The first proposal by Quest was a partnership with a Florida company, Maritime Holdings Group. When it submitted its latest proposal, Quest had dropped that company and found two other partners.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

erussell@mainetoday.com