BAR HARBOR — There was lots of applause last month when the Town Council accepted the ferry terminal property advisory committee report and voted to buy the property for $3.5 million, but disagreements remain about what, exactly, the council has agreed to do.
“The most accurate representation is that council has accepted the report, not adopted or accepted the recommendation,” council Chair Paul Paradis told the Islander last week. “We have not made any decisions on which way to proceed because we don’t have all the information to make the decision.”
Joe Minutolo, who was a member of the advisory committee, was among those who had read Paradis’ comments in an earlier version of this news story online prior to Tuesday’s council meeting. He said they seemed like “a step backward.”
“I was a little disheartened with what I read today,” Minutolo told the council. “It seems like we had a lot of excitement, [and] I hope there’s more transparency going forward with this process.”
In November, the council moved to exercise an option agreement to purchase the abandoned ferry terminal property on Eden Street for $3.5 million from the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT). That option was favored because it didn’t come with any restrictions on the use of the property.
At the same meeting, the advisory committee delivered its recommendation for a multi-use marine facility with tender boat landings from cruise ships and a transportation hub at the property.
According to minutes from the Nov. 21 meeting, the council unanimously voted to “accept the [committee’s] report, thank the committee members for their work in a short period of time and forward the report to Bermello and Ajamil” — longtime consultants for the ferry terminal-related projects — “for a review and business plan.”
Councilor Matt Hochman said at the Tuesday council meeting that while Paradis’ comment was accurate according to the minutes, the council’s intention had always been to move forward with the recommendation.
Some residents also hope to convince state legislators to kill LD 1400, the bill that would give Bar Harbor the option to create a port authority by local referendum. Opponents believe the bill is now unneeded because the uses envisioned in the committee recommendation do not require a port authority structure.
“The ferry terminal property advisory committee voted for local ownership, local control, a limit on annual cruise ship visitation and freedom from bureaucratic oversight,” resident Art Greif said. “A Bar Harbor Port Authority (BHPA) runs counter to each of these core principles the committee expressly endorsed.”
The development of a business plan is wide open at this point, Paradis said, and it would be premature to eliminate the opportunity to create the port authority or promise everything in the recommendation.
Also on Tuesday, the council unanimously approved additional funds for a contract with consultants Bermello Ajamil and Partners to create a business plan. The proposal for that plan was submitted to the town on Dec. 5.
The plan, a four-phase project, is to conduct a market analysis, create concept designs, perform financial analysis and develop the final strategy, which included the goals from the town advisory committee’s report.
Resident Anne Marie Quin implored the council to move away from consultants like the Florida-based Bermello and Ajamil, saying they are unfamiliar with the towns they work for.
“We live in an area that attracts many people that are experts in their field,” Quin said. “Why are we going so far away to bring consultants in that don’t understand our town?”
According to the plan, the business plan process will take 14 weeks and cost $65,620. An existing contract the company has with Bar Harbor has a balance of unused fees of $35,800, requiring the council to add $29,820 from a capital improvement account for the completion of a business plan by B&A.
Bermello and Ajamil also requested an additional $20,000 for local market analysis, but a summary for that fee was not available. This fee was not included in the motion. Councilor Gary Friedmann said he did not believe it was necessary, because there is $11,000 allocated for market analysis in the plan.
Town Manager Cornell Knight also suggested that Tom Crikelair, a transportation planner who was one of the leaders of the advisory committee, sit in on any meetings with the consultants. No action was taken on that suggestion.
The vote to add money to the Bermello and Ajamil budget was passed by a 5-0 vote. Councilors Judie Noonan and Erin Early Ward were excused from the meeting.