BAR HARBOR—The Bar Harbor Town Council took another step toward addressing cruise ships this week with a detailed motion that seeks to engage the citizens in future planning and limit the number that could come into town.
“I would like to propose a motion to establish cruise ship policy by developing a mailed survey of Bar Harbor residents, holding a public hearing and placing a proposed limit on the number of cruise ships and disembarking passengers on the June 2021 town meeting warrant,” said council member Gary Friedmann.
The motion carried 4-2 (Cough, Hochman). Chairman Jeff Dobbs was absent from the meeting.
Earlier in the month, the council passed two motions regarding cruise ships after receiving what they described as an unprecedented number of emails from residents regarding the topic—with most, they said, in favor of eliminating them altogether. The motions directed the town’s Cruise Ship Committee to look at possibly limiting the annual number of cruise ship visits and tabling a decision on whether or not to deny cruise ships for the 2021 season until their January meeting. The committee has yet to return to the council with recommendations.
The emails from residents have continued. “Since Sunday, I have received over 30 emails about cruise ships,” said council member Erin Cough.
Before making the motion, Friedmann expressed concern that if the council does not move swiftly to address cruise ships in town, residents may do it for them through the citizen petition process.
Council Vice Chairman Matt Hochman said he hoped to be able to reach a compromise between those who don’t want cruise ships and those who depend on them. He also expressed concerns that any citizen action calling for a ban on all cruise ships would have unintended consequences, not the least of which would be the impact of revenue for the town.
Hochman asked Town Manager Cornell Knight about the impact that the loss of cruise ship revenue would have on property taxes. “What would be the tax implications of an outright elimination of cruise ships be?” he asked.
Knight said that he would need to do some more work to present a figure to the council, but that cruise ship fees fund a significant portion of the harbormaster’s office, the cleaning of public rest rooms, street cleanings, administrative time, part of the finance office and debt service. Knight said that it currently covers about $70,000 of debt payments annually, including $25,000 for the ferry terminal.