By Rob Jordan
As Bar Harbor moves forward with discussions and shared visions for the former ferry terminal property on Eden Street, I would suggest that the importance of our own port authority needs to be included in these discussions.
How does a local government regulate the powers of a port authority? The entity forming the port authority is responsible for oversight. The powers and duties of each port authority are spelled out in the local government’s ordinance or resolution forming it. The local government does not have to delegate all of the powers allowed, but certain powers are authorized. They include: acquire real and personal property; own, lease, sell and construct improvements to real property; issue revenue bonds for port authority facilities and receive federal and state grants and loans and other public funds. Other powers include operating transportation, recreation, governmental or cultural facilities; and setting rates and charges for use of port authority facilities. Port authorities also must cooperate broadly with other governmental agencies and exercise powers delegated by such agencies.
What are the primary duties of a port authority? In addition to the management of a water port or airport, authorities can perform many useful functions. Port authorities have the legislative power to purchase, subdivide, sell and lease real property. Authorities also can be used as a vehicle through which industrial or general obligation bonds can be issued, and they can receive state and federal grants and loans.
How does a port authority raise capital? They can issue bonds in two ways: by a vote of the local electorate, similar to a local school bond issue, or as a “pass-through vehicle,” based on the credit of the entity for which the bonds are issued.
There are several things to remember regarding the legislation that will allow us to establish our own port authority. Three members of the five member board will be elected directly by the voters. The remaining two would be appointed by the Town Council. The legislation suggests that after all the financial obligations needed for developing the site have been satisfied, the port authority can be dissolved and the property turned over directly to the town. Residents could choose to do that or keep the port authority.
Besides the fact that Bar Harbor taxpayers will not be on the hook financially for the cost of purchasing and developing the site if a port authority is created, the other major benefit would be that the authority will be responsible for its operation, relieving the town of that responsibility or the need for additional staff and costs.
Whatever the town decides to do with the site can be spelled out in detail to the authority before they move forward with the project, so fear that we would lose control of the final product is unfounded.
Finally, it should be clear to all of those supporting this project that those opposed to developing a cruise ship terminal facility will use the financial burden placed on taxpayers as their strongest argument to not move forward. The creation of a Bar Harbor Port Authority effectively removes that argument from the discussions. Regardless of what you think should happen with this valuable asset, our town will be well served by supporting the creation of our own port authority.
Rob Jordan is a former town councilor and Warrant Committee member.