Sparks fly at library forum on citizen initiatives



BAR HARBOR — Emotions ran high toward the end of a moderated discussion on two citizen initiatives last Wednesday at the Jesup Memorial Library. The questions will appear on the June 11 town election ballot.

Article 4 would permit only registered Bar Harbor voters to hold voting seats on any appointed town board, committee or commission. Article 5 is a proposed land use ordinance amendment to prohibit berthing piers for large cruise ships. It would limit pier length to 300 feet, and limit the size of berthed cruise ships to 500 passengers.

Resident Charles Sidman presented both citizen initiatives, which were discussed in a question-and-answer format moderated by Ronald Beard.

As Beard was ending the meeting, arguments broke out as resident Jim O’Connell stood up and questioned the town’s record of pier lengths, saying he had measured piers himself and gotten different figures.

When Beard dismissed the comment to continue ending the meeting, O’Connell yelled obscenities as resident Art Greif stood up and approached the table where Town Manager Cornell Knight and other town representatives were sitting.

Beard said the meeting was over, and people began stacking chairs.

“What I observed was that someone who was quite angry expressed themselves in a way that did not follow the ground rules,” Beard told the Islander Tuesday.

Despite those last few minutes, Beard said he thought, “the meeting went very well,” thanks to the equal time given to both parties.

“The proponents [of the citizen initiatives] had a chance to explain themselves,” Beard said, “and the opponents were clear in why they opposed them. For me, that was the intent of the forum.”

Members of the Planning Board, Warrant Committee, Cruise Ship Committee, Communications and Technology Task Force, and the former Ferry Terminal Property Advisory Committee were on hand for the discussion.

Article 4 was the first topic of discussion.

Warrant Committee Chair Seth Libby spoke in favor of Article 4. “Local matters should be decided by those who will live with the consequences,” he said. “Article 4 does not preclude anyone from attending a meeting or offering an opinion, just from voting. It is problematic that you have people who are non-residents making financial decisions that could be self serving.”

Council Chair Gary Friedmann had a different perspective.

“All seven of us are independent thinkers,” he said of the council. “What we want as a council is to get the best information, the best insights. The Cruise Ship Committee is a perfect example of that. We need to bring people from out of town who are marine pilots, who are from the cruise ship industry, the police chief, the Acadia National Park representative.

“We have to appoint the best people, and by not giving them a vote, you render that committee useless,” Friedmann concluded.

Resident Anna Durand asked why the term “voter” was used in Article 4, instead of “resident.” Sidman answered, “That was unambiguous. You can only vote one place.”

Resident Dessa Dancy pointed out that the Cruise Ship Committee used to be made up of voting members and “experts known as a resource group.” She said, “In the old days of the Cruise Chip Committee, the resource group couldn’t vote.”

While presenting Article 5, Sidman claimed that “the town has been promising [the] cruise ship industry for almost a decade,” citing “numerous publications” including the website cruisemapper.com.

The description of Bar Harbor on that website includes a claim that, “as tendering passengers increases cruise companies’ costs, there is a plan for conversion of port’s old international ferry terminal (on Eden Street) to a combined ferry-cruise terminal facility.”

Harbormaster Charlie Phippen joked, “I have my work cut out for me if I’m going to build a cruise ship pier.”

Phippen said that though the Harbor Committee voted against a cruise ship berthing pier, they also voted against Article 5 because the members believed it would limit future plans for the newly acquired ferry terminal.

“This restrictive language would cause the entire facility to be nonconforming,” Phippen said.

Knight showed a diagram of 11 piers that would become nonconforming if Article 5 passes, which lead to O’Connell’s later statement disputing the lengths written on the diagram.

Becky Pritchard
Former Islander reporter Becky Pritchard covered the town of Bar Harbor and was a park ranger in Acadia for six seasons.
Becky Pritchard

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