SOUTHWEST HARBOR — If anyone in Southwest Harbor was opposed to adopting a moratorium on cruise ship activity in the town, they didn’t show up for a special town meeting Tuesday.
The 180-day moratorium was approved in a 119-0 secret ballot vote with little discussion.
Moderator Joe Marshall’s announcement of the results was met with resounding applause from voters seated inside one of the bays of the fire station. The meeting had been scheduled for the fire station meeting room but was moved to one of the truck bays to accommodate the large turnout.
The moratorium vote was put on the fast-track after public outcry over plans for the 310-foot-long, 210-passenger ship Pearl Mist to visit in September surfaced at meetings of the Harbor Committee and selectmen. The major concerns were damage to fishing gear, traffic congestion and an adverse change in the character of the town.
Selectmen, in response to those July meetings, voted unanimously to put the moratorium question before voters.
Before the vote, Lydia Goetze, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, summarized what the moratorium would accomplish, stating that it would give town officials time to “look at the issue” and develop a proper response.
The 180-day moratorium is “on the use of docks, piers, wharfs and other such facilities to transfer ship passengers in excess of 50 persons per instance.”
One woman asked if this meant 50 passengers at a time. She was assured that the cap was per ship, not per tender.
In response to another question, selectmen said the 50-passenger cap would still allow boats from the Maine windjammer fleet to visit the harbor.
The moratorium affects both public and private docks, Goetze told another voter.
“It would apply throughout the town,” she said.
Pearl Mist was proposing to anchor outside of Southwest Harbor and bring passengers to Beal’s Lobster Pier aboard a 36-foot tender. Passengers then were to board buses and visit Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.
The moratorium, which immediately goes into effect, states that cruise ship activity “has considerable safety, environmental and land use concerns” and the “existing ordinances do not provide an adequate mechanism to regulate and control the location and operation of the transfer” of passengers. During the 180 days, “the town will work on developing appropriate land use regulations concerning” the loading and unloading of passengers at docks, piers and similar facilities.
The moratorium is to be enforced by the town’s code enforcement officer. Any violation is subject to civil penalties under state law.
Last week, selectmen in neighboring Tremont voted unanimously to schedule a special town meeting to vote on a cruise ship moratorium there.
A year ago, Pearl Mist anchored off Northeast Harbor and unloaded passengers at the town’s marina. It was the first time a cruise ship had used that port, and the uproar that followed prompted Mount Desert officials to ban cruise ships there.