BAR HARBOR— “How do we deal with cruise ships in 2021, and how do we deal with cruise ships overall and into the future?” asked councilor Jill Goldthwait, as a discussion was launched at the Bar Harbor Town Council on Nov. 17.
According to town officials, there are 153 ships slated to visit during 2021, although many councilors agreed that the season was unlikely to proceed as anticipated.
Goldthwait introduced the conversation by talking about disease outbreaks on the few cruise ships that have set sail in recent months. “I think in fairness to the cruise ship lines…we need to give them fair warning that the season is not a given,” she said.
Other councilors were quick to dismiss the idea that the town cancel all cruise ships visits, citing the importance to local businesses. “A good cruise ship day in October was sometimes the difference between making rent that month and not making rent that month; between being able to pay your mortgage over the winter and not being able to pay your mortgage,” said councilor Matt Hochman. “Any discussion about eliminating cruise ships is just absolutely premature.”
Some councilors agreed with Hochman, who added, “Because of the cruise ship absence, most businesses have been down up to 80 percent compared to previous years.”
Other council members, like Goldthwait, said she heard from businesses that reported having a “better year than last year.”
Councilor Joe Minitolo suggested the town take a longer view and consider other sources of revenue beyond those generated by cruise ship visitors. “Actually, land base tourists spend 10 times the amount as those who travel by sea,” he said, referring to research on the topic.
After much discussion, councilors ultimately passed two motions regarding cruise ships. The first motion, presented by councilor Erin Cough, will direct the cruise ship committee to “review potentially capping the limit on the number of cruise ships in a given year.” The motion passed 6-1 (Peacock). Prior to establishing this motion, councilor Gary Freidmann spoke about limiting the amount of cruise ships per year to 100, but the council ultimately decided not to specify a number.
The second motion, which was also suggested by Cough, will table the decision to allow or deny cruise ships until after the first of the year. The motion passed 5-2 (Friedmann, Minutolo).