SOUTHWEST HARBOR — It’s been more than 90 days since residents voted 119-0 to adopt a 180-day moratorium on cruise ship activity, and selectmen are urging the Harbor Committee and Planning Board to get to work on developing ordinance changes to address the issue.
The chairman of the Board of Selectmen, Lydia Goetze, stressed the need for work to begin in separate letters to the two committees.
“Although the select board can renew the moratorium for six months, they may be reluctant to do so unless a written report from you shows that you are making progress on your recommendations to us,” Goetze wrote.
Any changes to the harbor ordinance and land use ordinance would first go before selectmen. The board would then decide whether to put the changes before voters, who would have to give their approval before they would go into effect.
The moratorium is “on the use of docks, piers, wharves and other such facilities to transfer ship passengers in excess of 50 persons per instance.” The 50-passenger cap was used to allow boats from the Maine windjammer fleet to continue their visits to Southwest Harbor.
The moratorium further states that cruise ship activity “has considerable safety, environmental and land use concerns” and the “existing ordinances do not provide an adequate mechanism to regulate and control the location and operation of the transfer” of passengers.
During the 180 days, it says, “the town will work on developing appropriate land use regulations concerning” the loading and unloading of passengers at docks, piers and similar facilities.
The call for a moratorium was prompted by a plan by the 310-foot-long, 210-passenger ship Pearl Mist last year to anchor outside of Southwest Harbor and bring passengers to Beal’s Lobster Pier aboard a 36-foot tender. Passengers then were to board buses and visit Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.
The public outcry over the proposed visit — concerns included damage to fishing gear, traffic congestion and an adverse change in the character of the town — led selectmen to put the moratorium before voters.
In her letter to the Harbor Committee, Goetze asked them to consider two major questions.
First, can the town legally ban cruise ships? Second, what regulations are needed to protect boat traffic and safety as well as fishing interests?
For the Planning Board, Goetze suggested there were two issues for them to consider as well.
Would landing passengers at any of the private facilities in town constitute a change of use? And, if buses were used to transport passengers, what would be the impact on traffic, and are regulations for this use needed?
Goetze closed by asking the Planning Board and Harbor Committee to submit to selectmen their written suggestions on how to proceed.
“We would like an interim report and a chance to discuss it with you by the middle of December,” she wrote.