A public forum about what to do with the ferry terminal in Bar Harbor is planned for March 30. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Port Authority option is open

BAR HARBOR — Formation of a Bar Harbor Port Authority is an option for ownership and management of the former international ferry terminal property, after Town Council action Tuesday. The council voted 5-1 to support state legislation that would enable creation of such an entity. Councilor Clark Stivers cast the dissenting vote. Councilors Matt Hochman, Gary Friedmann, Burt Barker, Peter St. Germain and Paul Paradis voted “yes.” Councilor Anne Greenlee was not present.

Future creation of a port authority would require both this enabling legislation and a town referendum vote.

Councilors voted in February to support the draft bill, sponsored by Sen. Brian Langley (R-Hancock) and modeled on the Eastport Port Authority’s enabling legislation, but only if the bill did not include eminent domain powers for the Port Authority.

Following that vote, town officials learned that the eminent domain language is necessary for the Port Authority to qualify as a political subdivision and thus qualify for tax-exempt status in issuing bonds, Town Manager Cornell Knight said.

Several councilors changed their positions on the proposal since a motion not to support the legislation failed in a 3-3 vote at the March 7 council meeting. Friedmann had said in the past that the move would be ill-conceived given concerns among at least some residents that a port authority structure would not give the town enough control of the terminal development.

“Since then, I’ve had discussions with residents who said the way we’ve set up the governing body gives us a lot of power over the kind of decisions they would make,” Friedmann said Tuesday. “Any properties they would take by eminent domain would be hotels.”

Hochman said he’s not convinced that a port authority structure is right for the town, but supports the legislation to keep the tool available. The move also could help show the state government that “we’re serious” about buying and developing the property, he said.

The council also voted 5-1 to support a strategy document prepared by consultant Louis Ajamil, “Bar Harbor Ferry Terminal Acquisition: Creating a Cohesive Acquisition and Development Strategy.” Stivers cast the dissenting vote, saying he’d prefer to wait and hear from residents at a planned March 30 public forum on the issue.

“The Cruise Ship Committee voted unanimously to support the approach outlined,” Knight wrote in a memo to councilors.

The proposal includes a public visioning process to happen simultaneously with development of a purchase agreement with the state, which currently owns the property, and a business plan for the site.

“If the facility is used for cruise ships, from past work, it is understood that not all of the property in the facility will be needed and that a certain amount can be dedicated to other uses,” Ajamil wrote, including a marina or public open space.

Friedman said the current citizen petition to limit the length of cruise ships that may tie up at a pier and write daily cruise passenger caps into the land use ordinance, would preclude the visioning and business planning process. Knight agreed, saying “it would be very difficult” to proceed with the project if the citizen initiative passes.

“This is the council saying we should take a step-by-step process, with opportunity for public input, versus the citizen’s petition, which short-circuits the process,” Friedmann said.

Terminal forum set

A public forum about the ferry terminal project, moderated by Ron Beard, will take place at the Jesup Memorial Library on Thursday, March 30, at 6 p.m.

The forum will include a presentation of current plans for conversion of the terminal into a cruise ship and transportation hub and related land use questions on the ballot for June town meeting. A question-and-answer period will follow.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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