By Charles Sidman
Within a larger and ongoing process of self-reflection, Bar Harbor is currently faced with and must decide between two competing visions of what it wants to be as a town and how it wants to govern itself. The following is a status report from one side in this debate.
First, the writer wants to recognize the Town Council for acting at their meeting of Aug. 2 to place the current citizen initiative to limit disembarkation from cruise ships onto this November’s ballot. After a barrage of specious argumentation at the preceding council meeting by lawyers representing opponents of our initiative, and then a brief period of allowable consultation with its own attorney, the council took the proper path by following the clear provisions of our town’s code and honoring the democratic citizen initiative process by putting the initiative onto the ballot for citizen voting. Thank you!
Second, even while not favoring the town manager’s alternate plan for cruise ship management that was negotiated in closed door meetings with the industry and publicly presented for the first time at the Aug. 2 council meeting, I would like to express respect and support for the ongoing process of creating and finalizing this alternative plan. It is understood that different participants and interests in our town have their own views on the basic questions about cruise ships, but the existence of two clear alternative plans (currently, the citizen initiative and that of the town manager) can only be of value to the citizens of Bar Harbor when they vote in the fall. My appreciation again!
So how will these questions and alternative plans be dealt with over the next several months? While the t’s are crossed and the i’s dotted, and the necessary signatures are gathered to make the town manager’s plan a defined and valid alternative, vigorous community discussion and debate (including more columns like the present one) about the alternative plans will take place leading up to the November election where voters will make their decision. If voters support the citizen initiative at that time, the town manager’s plan will become moot and the initiative’s provisions will come into effect with retroactive applicability as of March 17. If the initiative fails by garnering insufficient support, the presumably complete and council enacted town manager’s plan would then govern. Possible legal challenges by opponents of any cruise ship reduction would then be dealt with by the town, other interested parties and the legal system. Many attorneys have been consulted, and the opponents’ counsel aside, feel that both the initiative’s and town manager’s plans would be upheld as legally defensible.
Finally, a few words about the two alternative plans themselves. One, the ultimately democratic and citizen originated initiative, proposes what is already and actually a compromise to limit cruise ships as much as possible while still maintaining their beneficial role in and contribution to the local economy. We consider that the well-known 80:20 rule applies, in that 80 percent of the community benefits from the industry can be garnered from 20 percent of the current activity and traffic. Despite the town manager’s published derogation to the contrary, we feel that the initiative’s compromise is “good policy.”
In contrast, the town manager’s alternative plan is viewed as a recent arrival’s excessive deference to the highly selective benefits of the cruise ship industry and its local adherents for themselves, to the detriment of other businesses and the community in general. It proposes the minimum reduction in cruise ship activity that he thinks is demanded and will be accepted by our citizenry. The imbalanced (in our view) arrangements of costs and benefits to our community and outsiders, and the continuing improper politics that enable them, will be discussed and debated actively in coming months.
Charles Sidman is a resident of Bar Harbor and helped to bring a citizen petition aimed at reducing cruise ship passenger disembarkation to voters.