To the Editor:
Hancock County, home to Acadia National Park, has the smoggiest air in Maine.
That’s the stunning find in a report published last year by the national nonprofit group Environment America that examined smog pollution from air quality test sites across the United States.
With 27 days of what is categorized as “elevated smog pollution,” Hancock County has almost seven times the amount of smog found in Aroostook County and twice the levels found in Bangor. Even Portland, which has more residents than all of Hancock County, has better air quality.
Even more disturbing, the site for monitoring smog levels in Hancock County isn’t found on, say, High Street in Ellsworth, with its steady stream of vehicles at stoplights. No, the air quality was monitored in the heart of Acadia National Park itself, on McFarland Hill.
This should cause us great concern as our corner of the world welcomes an ever-increasing number of cruise ships to our area. Why? Because cruise ships remain one of the most polluting transportation systems in the world. One cruise ship can emit more soot than one million cars and more sulfur dioxide than 13 million cars per day. Put another way, one single ship can emit pollution equivalent to more than 20,000 idling diesel trucks.
In a 2016 article in The Guardian newspaper, transport expert Bill Hemmings said: “These ships burn as much fuel as whole towns. They use a lot more power than container ships and even when they burn low sulfur fuel, it’s 100 times worse than road diesel.”
Last year, another Guardian article followed a British scientist who found pollution levels on the decks of cruise ships to be akin to what “you would expect to find in cities such as Delhi or Shanghai.” In Venice, Italy, a former European environmental official warned tourists to pack surgical masks after recording alarmingly high pollution in the city.
As for our little corner of Maine, the first cruise ships of the season begin dropping anchor in Frenchman Bay last month. But there has been a movement afoot, driven by out-of-state developers and the Florida cruise ship industry, to build a giant mega pier at the former site of the Nova Scotia ferry landing in Bar Harbor.
If developers have their way, they could build a nearly half-mile berthing pier to dock at least two enormous cruise ships at a time, right at the base of Acadia National Park. This environmentally unfriendly facility would be next door to the campus of College of the Atlantic and its 350 students. It would be one mile from another 350 schoolchildren at the Connors Emerson School.
It would also be just over three miles from the same monitoring station in Acadia National Park that tells us, definitively, that we are already breathing the worst air in Maine.
But there is a better way. After conducting a feasibility study of the old Nova Scotia ferry terminal, a volunteer group convened by the Bar Harbor Town Council recommended purchasing the property and converting it to a modestly sized, multi-use marina. But the Bar Harbor Town Council simply pocketed the report and then pressed ahead with plans to hire a Miami-based cruise ship consulting firm to make its own recommendations for the property.
That report, prepared by the firm Bermello & Ajamil, will be released in the coming weeks. I can only hope that finds a common-sense way forward to build a multi-use marina, rather than a mega pier. But it’s hard to believe that this company, which proudly says it is “redefining the landscape of the city’s skyline” with a 166,000-square-foot cruise ship terminal in Miami, will be interested in proposing a solution in line with our small coastal communities. After all, the company is also building a 190,000-square-foot terminal in Port Canaveral, Fla. The company boasts on its website that it operates on six continents.
Are cruise ships contributing to our dirty air? They certainly can’t be helping matters. Unfortunately, northern New England and Maine in particular already suffer from the “tail pipe” effect of prevailing winds bringing pollution across from industry in the Midwest and up the coast. But if those factories are the sole culprit, then why aren’t the levels uniformly higher across the rest of the state? Why is the dirty air so heavily concentrated in Hancock County?
It’s impossible, yet, to say that cruise ships are the main cause of our dirty air. But we know that they are heavy polluters. We know that they are coming in far greater numbers than ever in our history, more than 180 ships this season alone, double the number from about a decade ago. And the ships in this industry are getting bigger, some capable of carry more than 7,000 passengers. If we suddenly had 180 new factories opening in Hancock County, wouldn’t we be right to question their impact on our air quality?
Of course, tourism is a vital part of our economy in Maine. But tourism has to be sustainable, and that’s why so many area residents like me want to see a small but sustainable multi-use marina developed at the old ferry terminal. Otherwise, we are killing the very reason people want to come here in the first place. The news that we have the worst air quality in all of Maine is a warning we are already headed in the wrong direction.