Committee membership, cruise ship petitions supported

BAR HARBOR — The town’s Warrant Committee is backing citizen petitions seeking to prohibit berthing piers for cruise ships and to require that voting members of town boards be town residents.

The committee voted March 25 to recommend adoption of both initiatives. Public hearings on both questions are set for the May 21 Town Council meeting.

The petitions first came to the council in August, and councilors elected to take 60 days to further consider them before taking action. In October, the council agreed to put both on the warrant for Town Meeting in June. Councilors expressed concern that the berthing pier petition seemed similar to Article 13, a 2017 citizen petition that sought to prohibit cruise ships over 300 feet from docking and allow citizens to set passenger caps at town meeting. That initiative was voted down.

Article 5 is a proposed amendment to the Land Use Ordinance (LUO) to prohibit berthing piers for large cruise ships. The proposed amendment would put a passenger limit on cruise ships that can dock in town, and a limit on the length of piers.

It states that “no person shall be permitted to construct or operate a pier, dock or wharf, or other similar facility, or any water related structure, that allows direct passenger disembarkation from, or embarkation onto, cruise ships capable of carrying more than five hundred (500) passengers.”

It goes on to specify that “no person shall be permitted to construct or operate a pier … that is over three hundred (300) feet in length.”

In the warrant committee’s discussion of Article 5, Rosemary Gladstone asked if putting a 300-foot limit on piers would interfere with future plans to build a marina on the ferry terminal property.

Donna Karlson said she read it to mean “just limiting dock length for cruise ships.”

Larry Sweet said he thought Article 5 would place “artificial constraints” on what the town could do with their ferry terminal property that could hinder the town’s ability to pay off the $3.5 million bond.

“There was great concern that this would impact the CAT,” said Warrant Committee Chair Seth Libby, referring to the international ferry set to begin service this summer. “We didn’t want to do that. [But] we saw this as a reasonable limit. This sort of draws a line in the sand. This places some power in the hands of the citizens.”

The Warrant Committee voted to recommend adoption of Article 5 by a vote of 14-3, with two abstentions.

Residency requirement

Article 4 would make residency a requirement to vote on town boards. It proposes an amendment to Chapter 31, Article IX of the town code to include: “All voting members of all boards, committees and commissions … shall be persons who are registered to vote in the Town of Bar Harbor.” It continues, “Persons who are not registered to vote in the Town of Bar Harbor may be appointed to such boards, committees or commissions, but they shall not be permitted to vote on any business that comes before such boards committees or commissions.”

Sweet objected to Article 4, referring to non-residents who are appointed to serve on committees for their expertise. “Basically what we’re saying is we want to disenfranchise a subset of our community,” Sweet said. “Granted they are not voting members, but they are stakeholders in a way.”

Donna Karlson gave a different perspective, offering “What if in another town where I was not a voter, they wanted me to sit on one of their committees for whatever I could offer them in terms of advice. I don’t feel like I really would want to vote even in an advisory opinion. I would feel weird voting on another town’s policy or budget.”

The Warrant Committee voted to recommend adoption of Article 4 by a vote of 15-3, with one abstention.

Becky Pritchard
Former Islander reporter Becky Pritchard covered the town of Bar Harbor and was a park ranger in Acadia for six seasons.
Becky Pritchard

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