SOUTHWEST HARBOR – The town will not be rolling out the red carpet for cruise ship visits after selectmen on Tuesday approved putting a moratorium on that activity before voters.
The board then underscored their concerns by directing the harbormaster immediately to begin prohibiting vessels with 50 or more passengers from anchoring in the town’s waters.
Both decisions were met with applause by the 45 or so people in attendance at the Southwest Harbor Fire Station.
The actions by selectmen follow notice of a planned stop by Pearl Mist, a 310-foot-long 210-passenger ship on Sept 21. Pearl Seas Cruises is proposing to anchor outside of the town’s harbor and bring passengers aboard a 36-foot tender to Beal’s Lobster Pier, where they would board buses and tour Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.
The visit would be the first for the town. The plan has been met with opposition from fishermen and other residents. Around 100 people attended a July 10 Harbor Committee meeting to express their displeasure about the visit. In response, the committee voted 5-0 to recommend that selectmen permanently ban cruise ship activity in the town.
Although fewer people attended the selectmen’s meeting, they were no less vocal in their opposition to cruise ships. Among the concerns are damage to fishing gear, increased traffic and the negative effect cruise ship visits would have on the character of the town and its waters.
One fisherman pulled no punches in offering his criticism. He said cruise lines are only interested in money and don’t care about local interests.
“They’re coming to exploit our Great Harbor,” he said. If it continues, “there won’t be a Great Harbor anymore.”
Lydia Goetze, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, asked if anyone wanted to speak in favor of cruise ships. The offer was met with silence.
One of the town’s largest employers, The Hinckley Company, has gone on record as opposing cruise ships in the town. In a letter to Selectman George Jellison, Hinckley President and CEO Peter O’Connell wrote to urge the board “to support the recent decision by the Harbor Committee to not allow cruise ships into Southwest Harbor.”
The proposed moratorium is on the fast track. Town Manager Don Lagrange said Wednesday morning that there is a draft and selectmen are expected to approve the document and schedule a town meeting vote on the moratorium at a July 25 meeting at the town office.
Lagrange said he expects the vote to be held within two or three weeks.
Although publicity done for Pearl Mist’s fall visit touts a visit to Bar Harbor, other vessels from competing cruise lines already have reserved the maximum number of slots allowed under that town’s daily passenger cap.