To the Editor:
There had been considerable debate and concern over how the old Bluenose facility should be used in Bar Harbor. Those questions include what the environmental impact would be, how busing and transportation of passengers would work, cost of the projects, scope and size of a pier, size of ships that could fit at a pier, passenger caps, financing of the proposed project and the possible establishment of a Port Authority in Bar Harbor.
All of this is valid, and I share many of those concerns about how this could be done in a way that makes sense for our town and its character. However, as I understand it, no final decision has currently been made by the Town Council or voters on any of these issues.
We are really in the debate phase, and it seems to me that it may be a year or two before any real decisions on how to redevelop the property come to a vote.
The towns proposal in Article 12 to open the zoning to the possibility of all the options is the first step in that process by creating a maritime activities district.
It doesn’t mean any other decisions have been made, just that we are trying to be as open to all options as possible. Personally, I support this way of thinking and would prefer that we have more options than less.
The citizen proposal in Article 13 is in my opinion a way to lump a twofold agenda into one vote and attempts to accomplish the opposite of what is described above.
First, through zoning, it seeks to render the old ferry terminal property unusable by most conventional cruise ships. That is the specific reason behind what seems to be an arbitrary 300-foot limit. Shorter ships already can dock at the town pier, so why would they want to dock out of town? It also makes it harder to develop a comprehensive plan for the use and development of the facility that is financially feasible if the town were to purchase the property. The theoretical most profitable use of the facility would be some kind of multi-use cruise terminal in combination with a public marina or paid parking deck.
It forces us to maintain an essential status quo, kicking the can down the road until, in my opinion, we simply lose the opportunity due to indecision and the state sells the property to a private entity.
Why buy a property from the state if there is no possible way to make it at least a revenue neutral proposition for the taxpayers of Bar Harbor?
With so little waterfront property left that is not in private hands, this is a property that should be owned by the town regardless of its future use.
The second reason deals with the passenger caps. By creating a dynamic in which passenger caps must be voted on each year by the general public, it makes them harder to change (higher or lower) and allows for less flexibility in ship scheduling. In this, the citizen initiative is shortsighted and reactionary in the way the petitioners have chosen to force the issue when there is so much more debate and many more votes to be had about how we as a town want to proceed.
Does that mean we don’t need passenger caps or a sensible plan to deal with tourist congestion? Of course not. But I also think that many of the people who lament how all the cruise passengers flood the town and make it hard to walk the streets, etc., are being a bit overdramatic. Try walking down Main Street at 7 p.m. on any evening in August when there are no ships in town.
In my opinion, it is easy to vilify them because they are here for such a short period and it is felt that they don’t have a broad enough economic impact except at restaurants open for lunch and retail sales at tourist shops. I would argue that the presence of ships in the fall is what keeps many businesses open even if indirectly and why visitation is up in the fall over the past couple decades.
When Bar Harbor is perceived to be open, more people not on ships want to come. That means more stores and hotels stay open, and the whole economy thrives, and round and round it goes.
Let’s be creative and think outside the box to all the lost opportunities we aren’t creating because of our own inward thinking about the situation. Actually, a little creativity in respect to non-cruise passengers and the way we sell our island, our park, our town and the experiences you can have here might also help business in the other towns on Mount Desert Island that never see a cruise ship.