SOUTHWEST HARBOR — A public hearing was held Tuesday to get input regarding proposed harbor fees for the coming year, which includes the elimination of a passenger ferry fee. If approved, the Upper Town Dock would cease being a stop for Cranberry Isles residents traveling to and from the mainland aboard Downeast Windjammer Cruise Lines’ Cranberry Cove Ferry Service.
Since its construction in 1962, Southwest Harbor’s Upper Town Dock has accommodated Cranberry Cove and prior ferries and currently provides parking space for islanders, workers, bicyclists and day trippers bound for or arriving from the Cranberry Isles. Cranberry Cove also calls across the harbor in Manset village. In Manset, the town of Cranberry Isles owns and provides a 101-space parking lot to property owners on Great and Little Cranberry and Sutton islands. Island residents, using both the Cranberry Ferry Manset Dock location and Upper Town docks, buy groceries, get prescriptions filled and patronize other businesses in Southwest Harbor. They also receive shipped goods via Cranberry Cove.
The Harbor Committee, however, sees the situation differently. Committee Chair Nick Madeira say the Upper Town Dock’s parking lot has become too congested due to ferry-driven usage for even Southwest Harbor’s own parking permit holders to use. The upper dock parking is enforced by the harbormaster and the Southwest Harbor Police Department.
“It is not the responsibility of Southwest Harbor to provide parking for this ferry, period,” said Harbor Committee member Donald Sullivan.
At the hearing, Cranberry Isles resident countered that the Manset location is not particularly large and is inconveniently located for islanders who do business in downtown Southwest Harbor.
On Mount Desert Island, parking is an island-wide issue that has worsened over the last two years due to the absence of the Island Explorer bus service, explained Southwest Harbor and Tremont Chamber of Commerce Vice President Holly Masterson. “Our hope is when the Island Explorer is back up and running that it might help the parking burdens we see everywhere, including at the Upper Town Dock,” she said.
Except for the passenger ferry fee, the 2022 harbor fee schedule was approved by the Select Board following Tuesday’s public hearing. Board members tabled a decision on the passenger ferry fee pending further information.
“I would like to defer the discussion of the ferry service until the Select Board has an opportunity to read the ordinance, said Select Board member Carolyn Ball.
The town’s coastal waters and harbor ordinance states that the “ferry service on a regular schedule may be permitted with approval from the Select Board. In order for the ferry service to continue operating on a regular schedule at the Upper Town Dock a seasonal fee will be assessed and paid prior to its use. The Selectmen also have the right to approve or deny any application after receiving comments from the Harbor Committee, the Harbormaster and the general public.”
Another public hearing will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 11, at the Southwest Harbor fire station.