BAR HARBOR — Cruise ships at anchor here are being asked to minimize light and noise, including music, announcements and the use of large projection screens, under a policy change approved by the Town Council last week.
The revisions to the Standard Operating Procedure document were proposed “as a result of input from concerned citizens and in keeping with the effort to minimize the impact of cruise ship visitation,” Harbormaster Charlie Phippen wrote in a memo. Last summer, hikers on Acadia National Park trails facing Frenchman Bay reported being able to hear, quite clearly, music coming from ship speakers.
“We already require ships to do everything possible to prevent oceanic and atmospheric pollution,” he wrote. “In addition to holding all wastewater, we would like all ships, and particularly those in Anchorage A, to minimize their use of exterior loudspeaker systems to official shipboard announcements only. We are also asking ships to minimize exterior lighting and exterior… projection screens.”
Councilor Steven Coston, who represents the council on the Cruise Ship Committee, said at the council meeting last Tuesday that he was pleased with the process leading to the change, with the harbormaster and committee discussing options and making another recommendation to the council.
The cruise companies “don’t want to be doing things that make people upset,” he said. If the change doesn’t solve the problem, he said, “it can go through the same process.”
Councilor Joe Minutolo asked whether use of Anchorage A, the one closest to the Shore Path, could be reserved for when there are three ships in town, since ships there create more visual and noise disruption. But it’s also the closest to the piers where tender vessels carrying passengers ashore need to go. Tendering from that spot is safer, especially in rough weather.
Councilors also discussed whether the town has the authority to direct the ships’ activity. The anchorages are within the town limits of Gouldsboro. Phippen said the state Legislature gave Bar Harbor authority over those areas in 1987.
The council also approved an updated Cruise Ship Tour Bus and Tour Vehicle Policy, which lays out expectations for where tour buses may park to load passengers.
Beginning last year, a portion of West Street between Main Street and Agamont Lane (the block of West Street between the Harbor Place building and Agamont Park) was designated a loading zone for part of the day on cruise ship days.
Police and the companies involved experimented last year with the changes recommended in a 2019 study of congestion on roads and sidewalks on cruise ship days. The more significant changes recommended in the study, such as turning the pier parking lot into a park, were rejected by the Town Council. But more minor changes to traffic flow have been adopted.
“We met with staff from the tendering facility at the Bar Harbor Whale Watch, along with representatives from the tour companies serving the cruise industry in Bar Harbor,” Police Chief Jim Willis wrote in a memo. “We reached group consensus on the concepts in the draft, while agreeing small adjustments will be needed during day-to-day activities.”
The changes include limiting the number of buses on West Street and allowing only small buses on the Main Street Hill. Additional buses could wait at athletic fields or at the former Highway Garage facility, but passengers would not board buses at those locations.
Willis noted that the work on the policy changes “was completed prior to the current COVID-19 emergency and no related precautions are included.”
The new policy states that the West Street loading area “may remain open to one-way traffic all day, but can be closed at the discretion of the duty officer.”
Councilor Erin Cough said the street should be open to local traffic as much as possible. Fishermen and other residents have expressed frustration about the road being closed.
“It may become a habit that it be closed,” she said. “I’d rather have the habit that it’s open.”
“The chief has done a terrific job of sorting out the issues,” Councilor Jill Goldthwait said, “but this continues to dedicate our town’s most valuable piece of waterfront property” to tour buses. “I hear from a lot of people who say, ‘I just can’t get onto the pier in the summer.’ I assume that will come up in a subsequent broader discussion on cruise ships.”