SOUTHWEST HARBOR – Voters at a special town meeting Tuesday at the fire station are to consider a 180-day moratorium aimed at cruise ships using the town as a port.
The meeting begins at 6 p.m. The sole warrant article asks voters if the town should enact a 180-day moratorium “on the use of docks, piers, wharfs and other such facilities to transfer ship passengers in excess of 50 persons per instance.”
Selectmen voted unanimously to hold the special town meeting in response to the outcry over a proposed visit in September by the 310-foot-long, 210-passenger ship Pearl Mist. The ship was proposing to anchor outside the town’s harbor and bring passengers to Beal’s Lobster Pier aboard a 36-foot tender. Passengers would then board buses and visit Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.
Protests regarding the cruise ship came to a head last month at meetings of the Harbor Committee and selectmen. Concerns included damage to fishing gear from the large ship and the impact cruise ships would have on the infrastructure and quality of life in the town.
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. A violator would be subject to civil penalties under state law.
The moratorium would go into effect immediately if voters give their approval.
The 50-passenger cap in the moratorium would still allow visits by vessels in the Maine windjammer fleet and similar boats.
Last year, Pearl Mist anchored off Northeast Harbor and unloaded passengers at the town’s marina. It was the first time a cruise ship used that port, and the uproar that followed prompted town officials to ban cruise ships there.
Tremont officials on Monday voted to call a special town meeting to consider a ban there. See related story.
A representative of Pearl Seas Cruises, which owns Pearl Mist, was at the Harbor Committee meeting last month. In answer to questions, he admitted advertising for the cruise shows the port of call as Bar Harbor and not Southwest Harbor. The company was forced to find a different location because three ships are scheduled to be in Bar Harbor that day, he said. Bar Harbor limits cruise ship visits to three ships on a given day.