BAR HARBOR — One of the two large hotel companies operating here has placed orders for boats specifically to tender cruise ship passengers ashore, company officials said.
Eben Salvatore, director of operations here for Ocean Properties Ltd. (OPL), said that the 98-foot boats will carry 150 passengers. They were designed by Australian firm Incat Crowther and are being built by Gulf Craft in Franklin, La. Aside from tendering, they are designed to do tours and perform ferry service, Salvatore said. They are expected to be delivered in spring 2018.
Salvatore said that the boats were built in response to growth in the cruise ship industry here. According to Harbormaster Charlie Phippen, 174 ship visits are scheduled for 2018.
Ocean Properties has been conducting tendering operations with cruise ships for 10 years. Sometimes cruise lines use their own small boats, and the local company assists them at the dock. Sometimes OPL uses the 112-foot and 126-foot ships from Bar Harbor Whale Watch, a company it owns.
OPL’s boats, all of which are different sizes, require special hydraulic barges to help passengers transfer between boats.
There are some days in the season when tender operations require the company to cancel whale watch tours, but the company charges cruise lines for the service. How much they charge varies from job to job, he said, but declined to specify those charges.
“On the hotel side of things, the exposure is great for business, and that benefit causes us to cancel tours,” he said. He argued that the cruise passengers visiting Bar Harbor help every business owner.
Salvatore, who chairs the town’s Cruise Ship Committee, said he doesn’t support the recommendation from the ferry terminal advisory committee (FTAC), which includes tendering at the Eden Street property. There are already two tendering docks in Bar Harbor, both closer to downtown, Harbor Place and the Harborside Hotel. Both are owned by OPL.
“Our stance is that tendering [at that property] is a bad idea,” Salvatore said. “It creates confusion and operational friction.”
That friction was brought up by residents at the FTAC’s public comment meeting on Nov. 16. The committee’s recommendation calls for relocation of buses for cruise passengers to the Hulls Cove property to help ease congestion in downtown Bar Harbor.
“The whole ‘congestion’ term is propaganda to create a use for the [ferry terminal] property,” Salvatore said. “Putting people a mile away from where they want to be doesn’t make sense.”
Resident Michael Blythe said at the public comment meeting last week that the number of cruise ship passengers requiring transport during the peak season would require stoplights on Eden Street, the main artery into downtown Bar Harbor.
Buses would operate every five minutes, according to plans drafted by the committee.
“It would be a colossal nightmare to stop Route 3 every five minutes,” Salvatore said.
Another tender location also could encourage competing prices, Bar Harbor resident Tom St. Germain said last week. FTAC member Heather Sorokin said even if the ferry terminal processed a small percentage of cruise ship passengers via tendering, congestion would be eased. She said tendering at the ferry terminal property would go out to bid and could be contracted to Ocean Properties.
FTAC member Joe Minutolo said that the cruise ship industry has expressed interest in a change in tendering operations.