March 18, 2013

Ferry that joins Cousins, Chebeague islands also divides

Distrust between some Cousins residents and the operators of the daily ferry service has scuttled an attempt to create a transit district eligible for federal grants.

By Matt Byrne
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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The Chebeague Island ferry Islander approaches the pier on Cousins Island on a recent run.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

Fitzgerald, who is no more welcoming of the extra traffic than she is of the years of discord, said she has made plans to meet privately with Chebeague residents to try to hash out their differences -- the first step, she said, to creating some kind of cooperation between communities separated by less than a mile of water.

"There has to be a give-and-take here," said Fitzgerald. "Many of us on Cousins Island feel like it's been all take. We don't get anything."

Reaching a warmer state of affairs will not be simple. The disagreements go back generations and have changed little at their core.

Before the Cousins Island causeway's construction in 1956, Chebeague Island residents accessed the mainland only by private boat or aboard the Casco Bay Lines ferry, which provides less frequent, longer trips of more than an hour to Portland.

The ferry's origins are somewhat informal, said Hill. At first, lobstermen shuttled Chebeague residents back and forth, then a water taxi service started in 1959, and then the Chebeague Transportation Co. formed in 1971.

To calm the objections over the years, the service has been limited by a series of court orders, appeals and consent agreements, each carefully crafted to prevent further encroachment of the ferry's influence on island residents' lives.

The current agreement, signed in 2008 by the town of Yarmouth and the town of Chebeague Island, stipulates such details as the number of ferry trips allowed per week and per day, the hours of the boat's operation and the size of any ferry boat to be purchased in the future.

Additional orders have been issued over the years governing the operation of a barge service to transport cars, freight and trash.

No battle has generated more ill will than the 1999 taking of 1.4 acres near the ferry wharf that for decades were owned by the Blanchard family.

Conflicts over use of the land go back at least 50 years, when it was first used for parking. Yarmouth sued Blanchard in 1976, and the first court-ordered consent agreement to limit parking was made.

Disagreements continued, and in 1994 the Blanchard family threatened not to renew the lease for the parking area. Before that could happen, the state of Maine took the lot by eminent domain.

The Blanchards appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which upheld the seizure in a 4-3 decision.

The Blanchard family remains involved in the dispute.

"I felt a genuine interest on a part of all the parties that there be productive conversations," said James Cohen, who represented the Blanchards during the recent tussle over the transit district issue. "There were acknowledgements of lots of history, and fear of that history, but also a desire to find opportunities to improve."

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:


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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Chebeague Island-bound passengers file aboard the ferry Islander from the pier on Cousins Island. After an informal start, the Chebeague Transportation Co. formed in 1971.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer


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