MOUNT DESERT — A rare cruise ship visit to Northeast Harbor, on Sept. 23, should also be the last, members of the town’s Marine Management Committee said Tuesday.
They voted 6-1 to recommend to the Board of Selectmen that cruise ships be prohibited from bringing passengers to the village.
Harbormaster John Lemoine, who stated no position on the question, said he would ask Town Manager Durlin Lunt to place it on the agenda for the selectmen’s Oct. 17 meeting.
Lemoine said the town’s harbor regulations have allowed cruise ship visits since 1987.
“This has been available for nearly 30 years. It’s just that no one has been taking us up on it,” he said.
Lemoine said the cruise ship Pearl Mist had wanted to visit Bar Harbor on Sept. 23, but that the port already was fully booked. So, American Cruise Lines, which offers cruises on Pearl Mist, decided to bring it to Northeast Harbor. The ship can carry 210 passengers and a crew of 70.
Lemoine said he thinks it had between 170 and 180 passengers on the day it visited Northeast Harbor, and about half of them got on Oli’s Trolley buses for a tour of Acadia National Park.
“The rest stayed here in Northeast Harbor,” he said. “And I’ve heard from multiple shop owners that they had one of the best days they had all summer. I think that, as far as economic development, we’ve thrown them a major bone.”
Lemoine said he has gotten probably 100 phone calls about the ship’s visit, and they have been split about evenly between people who had positive reactions and those who expressed opposition or concern.
“Some were concerned just because their view was obstructed for six or eight hours,” he said. “A handful of fishermen were upset because of where [the ship] came in; they may have lost gear.”
The 325-foot Pearl Mist is too large to come into the harbor and tie up at the town pier, so it anchored off Bear Island. Tenders brought passengers to the marina.
Lemoine said the cruise ship visit went smoothly.
“If I hadn’t known the boat was out there and didn’t see a few Oli’s Trolley buses, I never would have known the boat had come and gone. There was no impact on our facility, and we have a nice $2,500 check coming in the mail.”
But Marine Management Committee member Chris Moore said he didn’t think the fee charged by the town or the revenue for local businesses was worth the potential cost to fishermen and the annoyance to “summer people [who] feel the town is promoting this to be there in front of their view.”
Committee member Eric Jones agreed.
“There are some businesses uptown that are hurting, but there are 20 to 25 fishermen from the town of Mount Desert who pay taxes here, and every one of them is a small business,” he said, adding that they stand to lose a lot of gear and, thus, money every time a cruise ship comes in.
“There’s no way they can come between Bear Island and Sutton Island without a lot of trap loss.”
Jim Bright, another member of the committee, said the fishermen have “a strong and valid point.”
Lemoine said any future cruise ship visits probably would be scheduled well in advance and the company that provides the pilots that bring the ships in could have a designated route, so lobstermen could make sure their gear is not in jeopardy.
Committee member Story Litchfield expressed the strongest opposition to allowing cruise ship visits.
“I don’t think there’s any amount of money that should make it worthwhile for a cruise ship to be in Northeast Harbor,” she said. “I think it totally is against the character of Northeast Harbor, and I know a lot of people that are wild they are so upset.
“The intrinsic damage to the community I think is huge. You’ve got the lobster trap damage, but also the damage to the nature of the community.”
Committee Chairman Rick Savage cast the only vote against recommending a ban on cruise ship visits. Noting that four members of the 11-member committee were absent, he said he thought the matter should be tabled until the full committee could weigh in.
If the selectmen agree with the committee’s recommendation next Monday and ban cruise ship visits, American Cruise Lines will have to alter its plans for next season.
Lemoine said the company has scheduled 11 visits to Northeast Harbor by a ship other than Pearl Mist. That ship is scheduled to come from an overnight in Bar Harbor and drop passengers in Northeast Harbor for three or four hours. He said they wouldn’t be taking tours of Acadia, but would stay in Northeast Harbor.
Because of that, he said, downtown businesses should benefit even more than they did when Pearl Mist came calling.