When the Town Council first voiced its opposition to Article 5 last fall, it did so on very different grounds than it now advances. This Citizens’ Initiative is titled “An Amendment to the LUZO to Prohibit Berthing Piers for Large Cruise Ships.” The written declared purpose of the amendment is “to prohibit construction of a pier for the berthing of large-scale cruise ships in the Town of Bar Harbor.” Last fall the Town Council stated that a ferry boat might be classified as a cruise ship and thus Article 5 might prohibit berthing of the Cat.
I pointed out by both letter and in person that Land Use Ordinance section 125-108A refers to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary for the meaning of any undefined terms. Ferry boat and cruise ship are not defined in the LUO. However, Webster’s defines a ferry boat as a vessel carrying people, vehicles and goods between two defined ports for business or pleasure. Webster’s defines a cruise ship as a vessel visiting multiple ports for passengers for pleasure purposes only.
No councilor continues to claim that a cruise ship could be mistaken for a ferry boat. No councilor would try to drive his car onto a small cruise ship berthed at the municipal pier this summer. Equating ferry boats with cruise ships is like equating apples with oranges.
But now the Town Council has written a letter claiming that Article 5 would “prevent any pier or water related structure from exceeding 300 feet in length.” Voters need to use their eyes and their heads. Article 5 is titled as an amendment to “prohibit berthing piers for large cruise ships.” Its stated purpose is to “prohibit construction of a pier for the berthing of large-scale cruise ships.” No planning board nor court would ever construe any amendment expressly titled and designed to apply to cruise ship piers only to apply to any other activity.
The council next claims that there are 11 piers that currently exceed 300 feet that this Article would affect. Yes, Article 5 would prohibit such a pier from berthing cruise ships, but I doubt the Bar Harbor Inn wishes to berth a cruise ship carrying more than 500 passengers at its pier. More fundamentally, the council appears to be measuring pier length not from the mean low-water mark, but from wherever the approach to the pier begins on land. Land use ordinances are strictly construed to preserve private property rights. In the absence of a defined starting point for measuring pier length, the starting point would logically have to be the mean low tide mark. Maine recognizes that oceanfront owners own their land to the mean low tide mark, subject to very limited public rights of access.
Finally, the council claims that it has “no intention of building a pier to dock cruise ships” and that “cruise ship berthing is not on the list of activities or uses for any Town property.” However, the council campaigned hard for passage of Article 12, which expressly allows for a “passenger terminal” at the ferry terminal site the town now owns, and passenger terminal is defined as a facility that can accommodate docked cruise ships. When the plaintiffs in Blanchard v. Town of Bar Harbor offered on December 13, 2017 to dismiss their challenge to Article 12 without prejudice in exchange for a simple Town Council vote stating that it “has expressly abandoned plans for construction of a large mega-cruise ship pier, by either the Town or any third party,” and non-support for the now abandoned Bar Harbor Port Authority, the Town Council rejected the offer. It denounced it as being blackmail and authorized tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to fight to preserve a right it now claims it does not wish to pursue. We as voters should watch what the Town Council does, not what it says.
At the May 7 Town Council meeting authorizing a letter opposing Articles 4 and 5, one councilor denounced those who circulated citizens’ initiatives as “rabble-rousers.” I helped circulate two initiatives that the council bitterly opposed in 2015. The council authorized spending $20,000 to $30,000 of taxpayer money to first keep these initiatives off the ballot and then to have the initiatives declared ineffective despite winning the approval of 58 percent of the voters. These petitions were simply designed to keep industrial-size utility substations out of residential neighborhoods. I, and those who circulated those petitions, hardly fit the definitions of either “rabble” or “rabble rousers.” This councilor apparently thinks that the 58 percent of Bar Harbor voters who voted for those citizens’ initiatives are “rabble.” He ignores the protection afforded to the right to petition the government enshrined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution he took an oath to uphold. He ignores the founding words of our nation that we are all created equal and are not a society composed of nobility and mere “rabble.”
I know the Bar Harbor electorate to be among the most highly educated in the entire state. That electorate should vote for Article 4, which limits voting members for any town committee to registered voters, not non-residents who have less at stake in the future of our village. Those same voters should endorse Article 5, which finally sets a length limit on cruise ship berthing piers, which length limit can be readily raised by the voters at any subsequent Town Meeting.
I trust the voters. They are not rabble. We are all each other’s equals.