John Macauley, chairman of the Mount Desert Board of Selectmen. In response to a request for the board to take a position on the creation of a port authority in Bar Harbor, Macauley said, "This looks like it's not any of our business." ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Mount Desert neutral on port authority legislation

MOUNT DESERT — “This looks like it’s not any of our business,” Board of Selectmen Chairman John Macauley said Monday about a request from a group called “Friends of Frenchman Bay” that the board formally oppose a bill before the Legislature that would allow Bar Harbor to create a port authority.

The board later voted unanimously to take no position on the bill.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Brian Langley of Ellsworth and co-sponsored by Rep. Brian Hubbell of Bar Harbor, who also represents Mount Desert and Lamoine, following consultations with Bar Harbor officials. It would authorize the town to have citizens vote on whether to establish a port authority to take ownership of the ferry terminal property and to be responsible for its development and operation.

Hancock resident Renata Moise, a leader of Friends of Frenchman Bay, said in a Jan. 20 letter to elected officials in towns surrounding the bay that a port authority would “independently assume sole decision-making over pier expansion and pier use, including already proposed options for a multi-fold increase … of large cruise ship berthing.”

More and larger ships, she wrote, would mean “increased air and water pollution to the bay” and that “introduction of mega-ship use of the pier will forever change the scenic and recreational and occupational opportunities in Acadia National Park, of the waters surrounding Mount Desert Island and all of Frenchman Bay.”

Moise said in her letter that if the bill before the Legislature passes, residents of towns around the bay, aside from Bar Harbor, “will not have a vote on an issue which will harm Frenchman Bay forever.”

Bar Harbor Town Manager Cornell Knight attended the Mount Desert selectmen’s meeting on Monday and explained why the town wants the option to create a port authority.

He said town residents will vote in June on a proposal to buy the ferry terminal property for $3.5 million and on a $5.1 million bond issue for elementary school improvements (see related story). He said developing the ferry terminal property could cost another $10 million to $12 million, although the town does not yet have a firm estimate.

Knight said town residents might think all of that is too much debt to take on at one time and that it might make sense to create a port authority to be responsible for debt associated with the ferry terminal development.

“All this [bill before the Legislature] does is give the town the option, and if we decide to go that route, there will be a town-wide referendum,” he said.

“We would still have all of our [passenger number] caps in place for cruise ships, and it isn’t going to become a petroleum industrial site with platforms out there and tankers coming in.”

Hubbell told the selectmen that, like many bills introduced on behalf of a single town, the Bar Harbor port authority bill likely will have smooth sailing through the Legislature.

“It got a unanimous report out of the Transportation Committee,” he said. “It’s not something that appears within the legislative frame to be anything particularly controversial. So, my expectation is that it will pass. It would be very unusual for it to get tripped up at this point.”

Selectman Rick Mooers asked if there was anyone in the audience from the Friends of Frenchman Bay. When no one spoke up, he said, “It’s interesting to me that you have a grassroots organization asking something very specific from the Board of Selectmen, to take an opposing position, and there’s nobody here to even explain to us upon what that opposing position would be based. So my position is going to be that we have no position.”

The rest of the board agreed.



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. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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