Casco Bay Lines plans to replace the 33-year-old Machigonne II with a ferry that will use a diesel-electric hybrid propulsion system, which is expected to eliminate up to 800 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. Ben McCanna / Portland Press Herald

PORTLAND — Millions in recent federal funding will help Casco Bay Lines outfit its newest ferry for a more environmentally friendly and quieter ride between the mainland and Peaks Island.

Casco Bay Island Transit District, which operates Casco Bay Lines, has been awarded close to $4 million in federal funding to purchase a 900-kWh diesel-electric hybrid propulsion system for the new ferry that will replace the aging Machigonne II. That vessel makes a dozen round trips daily between Peaks and the peninsula.

Final designs are underway for a new Peaks Island to Portland ferry that can accommodate 600 passengers and 12 vehicles. Courtesy / Casco Bay Lines

“She is 33 years old and needs to be replaced,” said Hank Berg, operations manager for Casco Bay Lines. “It doesn’t mean she is not safe, but it does mean she is very expensive to keep up.”

The new ferry will be one of the first public passenger ferry services to use the technology. The hybrid propulsion system is expected to eliminate up to 800 metric tons of carbon dioxide that the Machigonne II emitted annually. That is the equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from 173 passenger vehicles.

It also will generate less exhaust fumes, engine noise and vibrations during its runs.

The ferry, Berg said, will run on a battery and will be rapidly recharged in Portland between trips.

The recent grants of $3.2 million from the Federal Transportation Administration’s Passenger Ferry Grant program and $750,000 from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Environmental and Technical Assistance program were the “the last piece of the funding puzzle” for the $11 million ferry, Berg said. Money also is coming from the state of Maine, the city and Casco Bay Lines.

“This investment will help ensure that Casco Bay Lines continues to provide safe and reliable transportation to passengers, while also pioneering an environmentally friendly engine technology that will define the future of passenger vessel service,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who helped secure federal funding for the new ferry as chairman of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee.

“It is now fully funded to proceed,” Berg said. “We are in the middle of final design and hope to complete that by the end of the year.”

Randy Schaeffer, chairman of the Peaks Island Council, said many islanders applaud the new engine system.

“Certainly a propulsion system that is cost-effective, less polluting with less of an environmental impact is pretty much supported by most folks,” he said.

Plans for the new ferry initially called for it to be outfitted with a diesel-power system like Casco Bay Lines’ other ferries, but that changed after they saw how the technology is used by transportation companies elsewhere.

“This isn’t cutting edge technology. It has been in other places for quite some time. Buses in the United States use this technology and in terms of what we do, in Scandinavia, they have been using alternative propulsion systems for many years,” Berg said.

The new vessel is being designed to handle close to 600 passengers and 15 vehicles, 200 passengers and three cars more than the current ferry accommodates. The Casco Bay Island Transit District Board decided this spring, however, to cap the number of passengers on Peaks Island-bound ferries at 499 and Portland-bound at 599.

Some island residents, Schaeffer said, were concerned about the size of the new ferry and what it would mean for the island. Others thought a bigger boat was necessary.

“In general, the feeling was a bigger boat would bring more tourists to the island. People pushed back on that because we just don’t have the facilities here,” Schaeffer said.

But the ferry is also a lifeline for Peaks residents, he said, connecting them to the mainland so they can go to school, work, shop and get medical care.

The Machigonne II is the second oldest ferry in the Casco Bay Lines fleet that also includes Wabanaki (2013), Aucocisco III (2005), Maquoit II (1994) and the Bay Mist, a 1985 vessel that is used as a spare and for special occasion charters.

The Maquoit II, which does the Mailboat Run carrying passengers, mail and freight to Little Diamond, Great Diamond, Long, Cliff and Chebeague islands, will be the next vessel replaced. The design process has not begun, but Berg said money has been set aside in the long-range plan to design and construct the vessel. It is not yet known if a diesel-electric hybrid propulsion system would be used for that ferry.

 

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