SOUTHWEST HARBOR — A proposed ban on cruise ships and large vessels docking or sending passengers ashore here will go to voters at the annual town meeting in May. The ban would make permanent the cruise ship moratorium currently in place.
The language of the proposed new ordinance was approved by the Board of Selectmen at its meeting on Tuesday. The town’s Harbor Committee and Planning Board were tasked with developing ordinance changes in response to the 180-day moratorium on cruise ships approved by voters in August of last year.
With the stated purpose of addressing safety, environmental and land-use concerns, the proposed ordinance regulates the use of all facilities involved in tendering passengers from ship to shore. It prohibits ships, boats, vessels or watercraft with overnight accommodations for 50 or more passengers from access or anchorage within the town’s inner harbor.
Selectman Lydia Goetze asked whether the ordinance could prevent cruise ships from anchoring anywhere in Southwest Harbor waters. That sparked a discussion between the selectmen, Harbor Committee members Anne Napier and Corey Pettegrow, Harbormaster Adam Thurston and Capt. Skip Strong, a pilot with the Penobscot Bay and River Pilots Association.
The town “can’t prevent cruise ships from anchoring in state waters,” said Strong. “If you’re trying to regulate cruise ships, your best way of doing that is on the land side,” said Strong.
“We have a state statute that supports our regulating the land,” Napier said.
The board decided to delete references to coastal waters in the section of the ordinance on access and anchorage.
The proposed ordinance would be enforced by the town’s harbormaster and code enforcement officer.
Separately, selectmen approved several harbor ordinance amendments suggested by the Harbor Committee. These also will go to voters at town meeting.
Changes include requiring vessels that plan on anchoring in Southwest Harbor coastal waters to notify the harbormaster, who holds authority to approve or deny the request based on navigational safety.
Also, vessels larger than 150 feet will have to notify the harbormaster of an approved float plan, which includes the description of the vessel, its travel route and planned arrival and departure times.
“We kind of approached that as more of a welcoming thing. I think if you were coming in here to a strange harbor, it would be quite comforting if you could call up and get a heads up,” said Pettegrow.