SOUTHWEST HARBOR — A 180-day ban prohibiting cruise ships from bringing passengers ashore on local docks will be voted on at a special town meeting on Aug. 15.
The meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the Southwest Harbor Fire Station. The sole article on the warrant asks voters if the town should enact a 180-day moratorium “on the use of dock, piers, wharfs and other such facilities to transfer ship passengers in excess of 50 persons per instance.”
Selectmen voted unanimously at a special meeting Tuesday to put the moratorium on the ballot. The action follows meetings held earlier this month where large groups of residents and others expressed concerns about the proposed anchoring of the cruise ship Pearl Mist in September and the possibility of other cruise ship visits.
Selectmen wasted little time Tuesday discussing the moratorium.
“I think it’s a must,” said Selectman Chad Terry. The 180 days would give the town time to study the issue and take the appropriate steps, he explained.
Chairman Lydia Goetze and Ryan Donahue agreed.
Among the concerns expressed at a July 10 Harbor Committee meeting and a July 18 selectmen’s meeting were damage to fishing gear, increased traffic and the negative effect the activity would have on the character of the town and its waters.
The moratorium states that cruise ship activity “has considerable safety, environmental and land use concerns” and the “existing ordinances do not provide an adequate mechanism to regulate and control the location and operation of the transfer” of passengers.
During the 180 days, “the town will work on developing appropriate land use regulations concerning” the loading and unloading of passengers at docks, piers and similar facilities.
The moratorium would be enforced by the town’s code enforcement officer. Violators would be subject to civil penalties under state law.
The moratorium would go into effect immediately if voters give their approval. Goetze said Tuesday that the language cannot be amended from the floor at the special town meeting.
Pearl Mist is a 310-foot-long 210-passenger ship owned by Pearl Seas Cruises. The company was proposing to anchor outside of the town’s harbor on Sept. 21 and bring passengers aboard a 36-foot tender to Beal’s Lobster Pier, where they would board buses and visit Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.