American Cruise Line’s Independence sits in Frenchman Bay over the weekend. It is the only cruise ship coming to Bar Harbor at the moment due to COVID-related restrictions. ISLANDER PHOTO BY ETHAN GENTER

Council starts talks on cruise ship management changes

BAR HARBOR — The Town Council started tossing around ideas this week on how to manage cruise ship traffic in town after a recent survey found that more than half of the residents and business owners who responded felt that cruise ship tourism had a negative overall impact on the town.  

In a 90-minute workshop on Monday, and then again in their regular meeting on Tuesday, councilors talked about possible reductions to the daily passenger cap and changes to the potential anchorage sites. They also took up possibly limiting the number of days per week cruise ships could come to Bar Harbor.  

No decision was made, and officials said it would probably take several meetings to hammer out a detailed plan. The council did seem in favor of taking potential caps and running models to see how they would bear out. It plans to meet again for another workshop on Aug. 10.  

Complaints from the public have ranged from overcrowding and increased congestion to environmental concerns and views spoiled by massive boats.  

Councilors came to the workshop with potential caps. All seven members fell within the range of 100,000 to 180,000 passengers per year. This was surprising to council member Matthew Hochman, who also serves on the town’s Cruise Ship Committee.  

“One thing that struck me reading through, especially the number of passengers per year, honestly, was that we all seem to be pretty much in the same range,” he said.  

If that type of cap were to be played out, it would roll the town back to numbers seen in 2016.  

That year, 156,964 passengers came to Bar Harbor on 116 cruise ships, spread over 85 days of cruise ship activity. That number has steadily risen to 250,164 passengers in 2019, the last year the town had a full season of cruise ships.  

The 2022 schedule is projected to have 292,212 passengers on 174 ships, with cruise ships coming into harbor on 118 days.  

“The trend is up for number of passengers,” said Ron Beard, who was moderating the workshop session. “It’s up for the number of larger ships.”  

The town currently has a daily cap of 3,500 passengers in the high season and 5,500 in the less busy months. 

Some business owners are in favor of the cruise ship traffic, saying it brings not only money to their shops and restaurants but also cash to the town’s coffers. Council member Erin Cough brought up the potential drop in municipal revenues if cuts were made.  

But the survey showed that a large number of residents felt that the cruise ship traffic had grown too large. Sixty-three percent of respondents thought that the 2019 cruise ship season included too many days with cruise ships and 66 percent believed that the average number of cruise ship passengers was “too many.” 

Eben Salvatore, the chairman of the Cruise Ship Committee, said it was nice to see the council talk about working with the industry, which the town had to coax years ago to bring tourism in the shoulder season. 

Salvatore, whose business does tendering for cruise ships in town, didn’t want to see Bar Harbor just cut the number of passengers and cruise ship days. He didn’t think that would solve the problem and felt that the main issue was more of a visual one. Changing some of the anchorages would go a long way to smooth things over, he said. Salvatore hoped that there might be ways to have the same number of passengers come to town, but have the system restructured so the impacts of cruise ship tourism were not seen nor felt as much.  

The town has cruise ship bookings going out for years and council Chairman Jeff Dobbs said that whatever the council’s decision is, it will take time to roll out.  

“Whatever we decide to do moving forward will be a process,” he said. “It’s not going to change overnight.” 

Ethan Genter

Ethan Genter

Former reporter for the Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander, Ethan covered maritime news and the town of Bar Harbor.

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