A tale of two cities

Two towns on Mount Desert Island are discussing the issue of mobile food vendors in their communities. Their approaches could not be more different.

Southwest Harbor is looking at regulating food trucks on dirt pullouts along the road at the head of the harbor. Mount Desert sees encouraging food trucks to set up shop near the marina in Northeast Harbor as a positive move to encourage economic development.

Southwest Harbor seems hell-bent on making it as difficult as possible to operate a food truck there. Mount Desert wants to make things easy.

Regardless of approach, food truck business in any community involves concerns that are universal. First and foremost, public safety, from both traffic and food sanitation perspectives, needs to be assured.

Lacking connections to municipal water and sewer systems, food trucks need to be specially equipped for cleanup and washing of their surfaces, cooking gear and utensils. Proper sanitation resources for cooks, servers and those handling cash also need to be available.

Provision also needs to be made for the handling and disposal of the considerable volume of packaging involved with take-out meals, and disposition of food waste and leftovers.

Proof of adequate insurance also should be required. Also, early on, the agency that will be responsible for initial and subsequent health inspections needs to be determined.

Beyond such considerations, officials need to examine the fundamental questions of fairness. If the sole aim is to prohibit the practice entirely, why go through the long and arduous regulation process? That would not be fair to either prospective business owners or to folks serving on regulatory boards and committees.

Further, existing food service businesses, which in many communities pay the lion’s share of property taxes, as well as heavy water and sewer fees deserve consideration. Is it fair to allow competitors with much lower fixed costs to set up shop for free on public property?

In Southwest Harbor, officials seem to recognize that factor. In Mount Desert, officials, so far, seem to have downplayed concern as to whether food trucks at the marina might undercut restaurants and other establishments just up the hill in Northeast Harbor.

Other issues of concern include licensing fees and maintenance of respect for any private properties and park land adjacent to public ways that might be made accessible to food truck operators.

Economically vibrant communities require a wide range of dining and food service options. Food trucks can be a trendy part of that mix. The challenge both in Southwest Harbor and Mount Desert will be crafting and adopting local regulations in a fair, balanced and timely fashion.

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