BAR HARBOR — Town councilors want more time to study a proposed bill in the state legislature to create a Bar Harbor Port Authority to operate the proposed future development at the former international ferry terminal on Eden Street. The council voted to table consideration of whether to support the bill until their Feb. 21 meeting.
A Port Authority would be able to sell bonds to finance development of the project, which would keep that debt going on the town’s books. But the Port Authority also would enjoy some autonomy from town government.
“The concept of going to the legislature for a Port Authority I support,” Councilor Gary Friedmann said. “But I’m not ready to make suggestions” on the specifics of the bill.
Town Manager Cornell Knight and council Chair Paul Paradis, who are negotiating an agreement with the state Department of Transportation for future purchase of the property, stressed that the bill is a preliminary step.
Establishing a Port Authority is one option for the governance structure of the ferry terminal project, Knight wrote in a memo ahead of the meeting. The decision has not been made. “With the legislature meeting every two years, this legislation needs to be proposed now to keep that option open,” Knight wrote.
Future creation of a Port Authority would require both this enabling legislation and a town referendum vote.
The draft legislation, which state Sen. Brian Langley (R-Hancock) has offered to sponsor, is largely based on the enabling legislation for the Eastport Port Authority, Paradis said.
Councilor Clark Stivers said he scrambled to educate himself on the issue after receiving his council packet Friday and still wanted more time to learn about the issue and talk to constituents.
He and other councilors asked about the proposed makeup of the board and the Port Authority’s right of eminent domain.
As proposed, the board would include two residents of Bar Harbor appointed by the Town Council, one resident of Bar Harbor appointed by the governor, one person appointed by the harbor pilots’ association and one person appointed by the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce board of directors.
Paradis said Eastport has one elected seat on its Port Authority board, and that has been a source of contention there. The goal was a structure in which the majority of the directors reside in Bar Harbor, but town government does not have the power to “stack” the board.
“That’s so you don’t have an entity that borrows money, then have another entity that stacks the board and it goes broke,” Paradis said.