AUGUSTA — A bill to ban cruise ships and other large commercial vessels from the waters off the southern end of Mount Desert Island – the area known as Great Harbor – has been introduced in the Legislature by Rep. Brian Hubbell, who represents Bar Harbor, Mount Desert and Lamoine.
He introduced the bill at the request of Bar Harbor resident Earl Brechlin.
In July 2017, as editor of the Islander, Brechlin wrote an editorial in which he advocated protecting Great Harbor.
“Even small cruise ships at anchor can ‘sweep’ in circles as much as 1,000 feet in diameter,” he wrote. “The loss of fishing gear, both at anchorage and during large vessel transits, would be incalculable.
“While there is no state law prohibiting cruise ships from dropping anchor in the Great Harbor of Mount Desert, perhaps there should be. Those waters are no less a vital part of our heritage, our community identity, or our natural and irreplaceable resources than are the mountains, forests, lakes, shores and islands of Acadia National Park.”
When he wrote the editorial, Brechlin was concerned about cruise ships anchoring in Great Harbor and tendering passengers to Northeast Harbor, Southwest Harbor or Tremont, where they could board buses to Bar Harbor or for tours of Acadia. The Mount Desert selectmen had voted in 2016 to prohibit cruise ships from tendering passengers to the town dock in Northeast Harbor.
However, Brechlin wrote in the editorial, “There is no law in Maine that precludes tenders from using private facilities.”
Southwest Harbor and Tremont also have banned cruise ships from bringing passengers to those towns. But Brechlin wants the state to adopt a broader and perhaps more permanent ban on cruise ships in Great Harbor.
Hubbell’s bill would prohibit “the operation, mooring or anchoring of commercial vessels over 200 feet in length or with the capacity to carry more than 100 passengers in the waters of southern Mount Desert Island.”
The bill defines that area as “the No Discharge Area for Southern Mount Desert Island designated in Maine Marine Sanitation Device Standard – Notice of Determination.”
In his 2017 editorial, Brechlin described the area as being “delineated by Eastern Way, Western Way and the mouth of Somes Sound.”
Brechlin told the Islander last Thursday, the day after Hubbell introduced his bill, “I got more reaction to that editorial than to any I wrote in 35 years. People thought it was a great idea.”
He noted that Bar Harbor now has about 180 cruise ship visits each year.
“Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor have said they don’t want that kind of traffic,” he said. “And (Hubbell’s bill) just acknowledges that Great Harbor is sort of the pivot of this island’s entire history. So, I thought it makes sense to protect that.”
Brechlin said he is actually a big supporter of the cruise industry.
“So this is not an anti-cruise ship bill,” he said. “I just think Great Harbor is a resource that needs to be protected and acknowledged as a special place in this island community’s history and its current user pattern.”
Brechlin said he intends to ask the boards of selectmen in Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor, Tremont and the Cranberry Isles to pass a resolution in support of Hubbell’s bill. And he wants to generate support among lobstermen who, he said, “have certainly been concerned about having large vessels tearing up their lobster gear.”
He pointed out in this 2017 editorial that Great Harbor is busy enough without cruise ships.
“Two ferry services, water taxis and numerous private vessels ply the waters between Mount Desert Island and the Cranberry Isles,” he wrote. “Scores of private recreational sail and power vessels, sea kayaks and boats from multiple local sailing schools call the Great Harbor home. And area yacht clubs and boating societies regularly hold regattas, races and parades within the relative safe confines of our Great Harbor.”
The resolution that Brechlin plans to ask the town boards to consider says the presence of large commercial vessels in Great Harbor “holds a significant disruptive and safety risk to the established small commercial, fisheries and recreational users and traditional use patterns, and potential economic hardship through lobster fishing gear loss, as well as possible accidental damage to the…ocean ecosystem.”
Great Harbor, which already is designated as a no-discharge zone, “should have additional protection by being declared a Small Vessel Sanctuary,” Brechlin’s draft resolution states.