BAR HARBOR — A request to exceed the town’s daily limit on total cruise ship passengers on four days in the 2018 season is headed to the Town Council following a Cruise Ship Committee vote last week.
The committee voted 9-1 to recommend the council accept reservations from Freedom of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas, which carry 4,328 and 4,180 passengers, respectively, on four dates in July and August of 2018.
In October, the council denied another, larger request to book ships that exceed the summer daily passenger cap of 3,500.
That request was presented as an “experiment,” a way to determine if a few hundred more passengers made a detectable difference on traffic and other congestion in town.
“This is a quarter of what we asked for last time,” said Paul Paradis, who represents the Town Council on the committee, at the cruise committee meeting. The earlier proposal Paradis referred to was for a total of nearly 10,000 passengers over the caps over 18 days in the summer and fall. The new request is for a total of 3,164 extra passengers over four days.
When the existing summer passenger cap was set, he said, the number was somewhat arbitrary, based on the largest ship available at the time. The goal was to have no more than one ship in per day during those busy months. A second ship was seen as having more impact on congestion than more passengers on a single ship would, especially because there was only one tender-landing facility at the time.
“This is the same phenomenon as when we moved the cap to include 3,000-passenger ships,” Harbormaster Charlie Phippen said.
Greg Gordon, a committee member who represents companies operating shore excursions, said summer cruises tend to have more families with children who are less likely to sign up for bus tours than older customers. Police Lt. David Kerns said the shore excursion buses are the main driver of congestion around Harbor Place and the town pier.
Paradis said he would agree to changing the limit to “3,500 or one ship” for July and August, because the maximum size of single ships keeps growing. “But before we can get there, we have to show that 600 more passengers doesn’t make a difference. If we’re right, it gives us ammunition to argue for changing the cap. If we’re wrong, we have our answer.”
When the council debated the issue in October, Councilor Gary Friedmann requested a study to gauge the “quality of resident and visitor experience” on days with no cruise ships, days with cruise ships within the current passenger cap and the “experimental” days in 2018 with more passengers than normally allowed. Such a project would be different from an economic impact study already underway by a team from the University of Maine.
That formal study request did not move forward, but the cruise committee has taken steps to improve data on how many passengers come ashore from each ship.
Phippen created a “Port of Call Summary” form to be completed for each ship visit to track actual number of passengers on board from the ship’s manifest, number of passengers coming ashore, number of passengers on shore excursions and number of crew coming ashore.
“We will have done the daily survey for all of 2017” before the proposed trial dates in 2018, Phippen said. “We’ll be armed with a lot more info.”
Paradis said it would be helpful to cross reference survey data with traffic information from Acadia National Park, especially days when the summit of Cadillac is closed due to traffic.
Of the 10 such closures due to congestion in 2016, five happened when no ship or only one small (100-passenger) ship was in port here.