Hearing set on Great Harbor bill, legality still in question



AUGUSTA — The Legislature’s transportation committee is set to hold a hearing March 7 on a bill to designate Great Harbor, the water between the southern end of Mount Desert Island and the Cranberry Isles, as a “small vessel sanctuary.”

The bill, introduced by Rep. Brian Hubbell of Bar Harbor at the request of Bar Harbor resident Earl Brechlin, would ban cruise ships and other large commercial vessels from Great Harbor.

The Mount Desert harbor committee voted Feb. 12 to recommend that the board of selectmen pass a resolution endorsing the Great Harbor bill. The selectmen had asked for the harbor committee’s input. They also said they wanted to know whether the state has the legal authority to designate Great Harbor as a small vessel sanctuary before endorsing the bill.

But it appears they aren’t likely to get a definitive answer before the bill is passed, if it is.

In response to a question from the Islander, Hubbell said in an email Feb. 21 that the attorney general does not typically issue a formal opinion on the legality of pending legislation.

“However, in informal discussions that I’ve had, I think (the attorney general) acknowledges that, if enacted, the law would be challengeable on constitutional grounds, putting the state in a position to have to defend it in course,” Hubbell wrote. “I expect the committee will raise the question at the hearing.”

Brechlin said he plans to discuss the Great Harbor sanctuary bill with members of the harbor committee in Southwest Harbor at their March 11 meeting and ask them to recommend that the board of selectmen endorse the bill. But that harbor committee meeting will come several days after the legislative hearing on the bill.

Brechlin has said the purpose of the bill is to protect the traditional uses of the waters of Great Harbor from disturbance by large commercial ships.

“When you look at the sailing schools, the regattas, the number of lobster boys…any large vessel that goes churning through there is going to start a collection [of fishing gear] on its rudder and really make a big mess,” he told the Mount Desert selectmen earlier this month.

 

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. dbroom@mdislander.com
Dick Broom

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