BAR HARBOR — After a survey of more than 1,300 residents and business owners found a majority of the town felt that cruise ships had a negative impact on Bar Harbor, town officials are trying to figure out how they’ll handle the upcoming season.
The Town Council has proposed caps on the number of passengers and the number of days that cruise ships can come into port. Those have yet to be acted upon and there have been questions about what the town can legally do for next season.
Cruise ships have largely been absent from Bar Harbor over the last two years due to the pandemic, but more than 150 ships and 290,000 passengers are scheduled to cruise into Frenchman Bay in 2022.
The town’s Cruise Ship Committee met earlier this month to go over the caps from the council and forwarded them to a cruise industry group for its thoughts.
But some members of the council feel that the clock is ticking for the 2022 season and action will need to be taken soon if the town wants to make changes in the near term.
“To do nothing for 2022 seems to me to be an abdication of our responsibility,” said council member Jill Goldthwait.
The Cruise Ship Committee had its first chance to formally weigh in on the council’s proposed caps last week, but the two bodies’ meeting cycle has made quick action tough.
“We started talking about numbers in August,” Goldthwait said at the Cruise Ship Committee’s meeting. “Now because of our schedule and yours, we’re into December, which would be the next time the council would be able to address whatever comes back from [Cruise Lines International Association] about this…The later it goes, the bigger a challenge it’s going to be for everybody to adjust.”
The committee’s reaction to the council’s proposal, which by one estimate could cut as much as 87 percent of the 2022 schedule, was mixed.
Skip Strong, who runs the cruise pilots, said he wanted to implement a management plan from 2019 that looked to ease some of the pressure of cruise ship traffic, but never had a chance to prove its effectiveness because of the pandemic.
He also urged gradual reductions and proposed a different cap system. Strong suggested allowing a smaller number of passengers for a certain number of days per month and larger number on other days, instead of limiting the number of days per month cruise ships can come to Bar Harbor. Only allowing 10 days of a month or something similar could be seen as a ban on ships for the rest of the month and lead the town into dicey legal territory, he said.
He was also worried about his business, which is required by the state to help guide cruise ships in local waters but needs a certain level of business to stay afloat. Larry Sweet, the owner of Oli’s Trolley and a member of the committee, added that a cut in cruise ships would result in a cut in operations like his that rely on the literal boatload of tourists that come to town.
Other members felt that the town needs to look at cutting back, and the environmental impacts of the ships were also raised.
“I don’t want to lose track of the fact that the town has actually said they want less ships on less days with less passengers,” said Jeremy Dougherty, the general manager of the Bar Harbor Inn.
Eben Salvatore, the chairman of the Cruise Ship Committee, said he would see if the committee could move up its meeting in November to help speed things along.
Russell Bedford, a representative for the Royal Caribbean Cruises, attended the Cruise Ship Committee’s meeting and said he was confident they could come back with recommendations.
“We are very much looking forward to working with you on this,” he said.