BAR HARBOR — The town’s debate about managing cruise ship visitation moved to Augusta Friday, where the legislature’s transportation committee heard testimony on LD 1400, An Act to Create the Bar Harbor Port Authority.
A port authority is a legal entity that the town may elect to form to own and/or operate a maritime facility at the former international ferry terminal site. This bill in the legislature gives the town the option of a future vote on the matter.
Town Council Chair Paul Paradis said the Port Authority is “an alternative ownership model for citizens to consider when the time comes.” He described the proposed cruise terminal as “a maritime facility to serve cruise ships among other uses.
“Right now, these passengers arrive in the most congested part of town. The idea is to develop a pier to eliminate tendering so passengers can land more safely and have more time to spend here.”
“I believe there’s some confusion that this is the only vote held,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Brian Langley (R-Hancock) said. “This bill is only for the purpose of permitting its submission to the legal voters of the town.”
“The acquisition of the ferry terminal has been a long, ongoing issue,” Rep. Brian Hubbell (D-Bar Harbor) told the committee. He submitted a slightly different bill at the beginning of the legislative session, but said he and Langley are not in competition. He endorses the current bill.
“My primary interest in this is ensuring that this is a way to keep what I consider to be a critical public asset for my area under public control,” Hubbell said.
Town Manager Cornell Knight explained the town’s plans. Committee members asked him to explain the arguments against that plan.
Knight said some residents would prefer to keep Bar Harbor as a cruise ship tendering port and not have a docking facility.
Paradis also addressed some of the concerns about the cruise ship pier plan in his testimony.
“We’re hearing about emissions, water pollution, thousands more passengers and a half-mile long pier,” he said. “There are only conceptual plans for a pier, and none are a half-mile long. There are no plans for dredging.
“A pier would improve air quality since ships tied to a pier don’t require propulsion,” he continued.
As for water pollution, even offshore in international waters, “MARPOL standards are tighter than Maine DEP standards, so what comes out of a cruise ship should be cleaner than what comes out of our municipal wastewater plant. Bar Harbor has monitored water quality around cruise ships for years and found no problems.”
He said all financial analysis done to date has been done using current passenger limits.
Bar Harbor residents Donna Karlson, Barbara Fenderson and Anne-Marie Quinn and Sullivan resident Mary Lou Barker testified in opposition to the bill. Written testimony also was submitted by residents of Bar Harbor, Gouldsboro, Hancock, Sorrento, Lamoine, Winter Harbor, New York and Vermont.
They expressed concerns about ships and a pier interrupting scenic views, traffic, overcrowding, local control and potential loss of revenue to downtown businesses.
“Are the people okay in general with cruise ships that are coming now?” Rep. Bettyann Sheats (D-Auburn) asked Barker following her testimony. “If it didn’t increase the number but brought them to a pier, would that be okay?”
“We’re not opposed to doing what we’re doing better, we just don’t want to make it bigger,” Barker responded. “Acadia is not so pleasant anymore. It’s too crowded by land visitors and too crowded by ship visitors. This tiny little town, island, national park – it’s like the tail wagging the dog.”
A work session on the bill was scheduled for May 4 at 1 p.m.