TREMONT — Selectmen have decided to forego a special town meeting for voters to consider a moratorium on cruise ship activity and instead will wait until Election Day, Nov. 7.
Town Manager Dana Reed had suggested scheduling the vote either in November or at a special town meeting on Sept. 18. Selectmen on Monday voted for November after doubts were expressed whether a section of the proposed moratorium ordinance would lead to the desired result.
The sticking point for selectmen was language in the moratorium stating it applies to any new cruise ship activities “including, but not limited to, the loading or off-loading of 50 or more passengers from vessels docked in the town.” Chairman Kevin Buck was the first to question the wording.
“To me, ‘dock’ doesn’t mean ‘anchorage’,” Buck said. As a result, he explained, a cruise ship could anchor inside or outside the harbor and bring passengers aboard a tender to a dock as long as the tender carries less than 50 passengers per trip.
Selectman Jamie Thurlow agreed. He and Buck first suggested changing the phrase to “docked or anchored.”
Reed said he was concerned at how the change would affect Island Cruises, which conducts boat tours out of Bass Harbor aboard a 40-foot lobster-style boat. According to the Island Cruises website, the boat carries a maximum of 49 passengers.
After further discussion, selectmen voted 4-0 to strike the word “docked” altogether and have the proposed amendment reviewed by town attorney James Collier to get his assessment of the change.
At an Aug. 7 meeting, selectmen voted unanimously to put a 180-day moratorium on cruise ship activity before voters. That action followed a July 27 Harbor Committee meeting where members voted to recommend to selectmen that a moratorium be considered.
Concerns about cruise ships visiting Tremont surfaced after the cruise ship Pearl Mist announced in July its intent to anchor off of Southwest Harbor in September and bring passengers aboard a 36-foot tender to Beal’s Lobster Pier and take them on buses to visit Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. The public outcry that followed led to a 180-day moratorium on cruise ship activity in that town. The moratorium was enacted at an Aug. 15 special town meeting in a 119-0 vote.
Pearl Mist is a 310-foot-long, 210-passenger ship owned by Pearl Seas Cruises. Mount Desert banned cruise ships in that town following a visit last summer by the ship to Northeast Harbor. As in Southwest Harbor, the concerns included damage to fishing gear by the ship, traffic congestion and a change in the character of the town.
Tremont officials, worried that Bass Harbor might be the next logical stop for cruise ships on Mount Desert Island, proposed a moratorium there.
As proposed, the moratorium is to give the town time to amend the zoning ordinance and other ordinances to address what it says is “this development pressure.”
If voters approve of the moratorium, selectmen can extend the 180-day period for another 180 days as long as they can show the town is making progress in developing the necessary response. This can be done as many times as needed, Reed told selectmen.