14,610 days. 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Although Casco Bay Lines has been transporting passengers to and from the islands of Casco Bay for 150+ years, the Casco Bay Island Transit District (CBITD) officially took over operations on this very day 40 years ago! What began as a privately-operated ferry line with a tumultuous history has since grown into a successful and dependable public transportation system that provides safe, affordable, and reliable service. To celebrate our 40th anniversary, we connected with Peter Murray, a longtime friend of Casco Bay Lines and a prominent figure in the creation of the District.
“I have been connected to the Casco Bay Islands ever since 1966 when I spent part of a summer on Great Diamond,” remarks Peter. Peter then went on to restore a former fort on Cushings Island, where he has had a cottage ever since. This connection to Casco Bay led Peter to become a member of the Casco Bay Island Development Association (CBIDA). At the time, the Casco Bay Island Development Association was established to represent the collective interests of all the Casco Bay islands and promote island development, infrastructure, welfare, and education.
In the late 70s, the CBL ferry line was acquired by new ownership, and subsequently fell into financial trouble after a misuse of funds. In an effort to mitigate the financial issues, Casco Bay Lines applied for a rate increase. The rate increase was denied, and Casco Bay Lines filed for bankruptcy. Following the filing, the CBIDA proposed the creation of the Casco Bay Island Transit District. But what exactly is a transit district, anyways? Peter explains: “A transit district is a quasi-governmental public body chartered by the Legislature with the power to acquire, develop and operate a described public transportation service. In our case, the transportation of passengers and freight between Portland and the Casco Bay Islands.” The CBITD was established on April 17, 1981, through emergency State legislative action to give the islanders a chance to govern the operations of the ferry service to the islands of Casco Bay.
Following the establishment of the District, the CBIDA was also vying for ownership of the bankrupt Casco Bay Lines. Peter, who had recently co-founded local law firm Murray Plumb & Murray, represented the CBIDA in its case to acquire the assets of Casco Bay Lines. But the island Association was up against some major obstacles. “The biggest hurdle was convincing all of the public and private players – the Bankruptcy Court, PUC, State of Maine, the banks, City of Portland, vendors and crews – to take seriously the idea of an islander-run public district,” says Peter. “This was a process of empowerment by the Casco Bay islanders and a battle to convince the world that a public district run by islanders could successfully operate a steamship line.”
And successfully operate a steamship line they did! Despite these odds, the fledgling District was able to prevail in the bitterly contested CBL bankruptcy proceedings, and officially took over the assets of Casco Bay Lines on the afternoon of Friday, March 26, 1982.
That day still holds a special memory for Peter. “This development put control of this lifeline to the mainland in the hands of the Casco Bay Islanders, rather than in the hands of private operators or the State of Maine. It was huge. It was one of the most satisfying undertakings of my professional life.”
Today, 40 years later, Casco Bay Lines is especially grateful for the Islanders and community members who advocated for the Casco Bay Island Transit District and ensured the continuation of service.
“I still admire the talent and perseverance of that original cadre of islanders who fought the battle to create the District and acquire the CBL assets,” says Peter. “And also admire the ongoing dedication of their successors who have continued to provide high quality public service at a reasonable cost ever since.”
Thank you, Peter, for sharing such an important story with us and for your insight on the impact of that day back in March 1982. And thank you to all our passengers for your continued support over these last 40 years! We can’t wait to see what the next 40 years has in store.
Learn more about our history by visiting www.cascobaylines.com/about-us/history.