A new voice for residents



I am moved to write this (unusual for me) political statement and invitation as a longtime permanent resident of Bar Harbor, participant in Mount Desert Island’s two scientific institutions and its College, current business co-owner and one who fell in love with this magical place as a summer-vacationing teenager and parent.

Like many others, I care deeply about MDI. Decades ago I chose to make it my home. Now many locals including myself, as well as longtime visitors, are unhappy with the level of preparation, integration, consistency, transparency and citizen voice involved in discussions and decision-making affecting the essential character of our cherished community.

As a possible means to increase all of the above, formation of a Bar Harbor Residents Association (BHRA) is hereby proposed. If formed, the BHRA will be open to and welcome the participation of every citizen and (year-round or part-time) resident of Bar Harbor and neighboring towns (that share many common concerns). It will serve as a counterweight to purely commercial interests primarily benefiting people and entities not making their homes here, and take an unabashedly active political role in electing officials who share our local priorities and concerns. Other well-intentioned and not-for-profit organizations with overlapping aims certainly exist and do great work, and will, hopefully, share a sense of mission as well as membership. But the formation of a new and frankly political entity, with distinct vision but without preexisting history and culture, may be useful and is viewed as desperately needed.

As a first and pressing issue of immediate local concern, many feel that the planning and discussions concerning possible reuse of the former ferry terminal have not been conducted competently, truthfully or transparently. We propose to gather signatures and support for the following three positions to be clearly expressed to and then necessarily taken into account by our Town Council.

First, many residents of the town do not want, and will vehemently oppose through continuing electoral, public relations and legal challenges, a pier capable of berthing large cruise ships. Even if financially viable, this intrusion into our unique scenic and maritime environment – with negative and likely growing impacts on the region’s (eco)systems. It represents a difficult-to-reverse and back-breaking final straw threatening our town and park’s already overburdened sustainability, visitor carrying capacity, quality of life, etc., that cannot be justified or tolerated.

We are determined to resist the sacrifice of something so precious to the majority of those who make their homes here or treasure this unmatched environment for the sake of purely commercial interests and a narrow visitor segment. Given sufficient and enduring local opposition, it is unlikely that the state or a large commercial entity ultimately will persist in devoting time and expense to pursuing this objective. To summarize this point – no cruise ship berthing pier in Bar Harbor, in any way, shape or form, ever.

Second, we condemn the approach by the powers-that-be to force through a predetermined outcome (the envisioned cruise ship berthing pier) by making only late, token and inadequately prepared gestures of soliciting resident opinion on the basis of manifestly deficient and untruthful information. In medical research or practice, (competent) professionals provide opinions or recommendations only after the necessary experiments or patient examinations. In business, (successful) firms build plants and launch products or services only after adequate market research, budgetary planning, etc.

Yet our citizens are being asked for just such premature input, without the required preparatory diligence or information, effectively putting the cart before the horse. Position No. 2 for which we seek support is that any political or community discussion or decision-making regarding reuse of the ferry terminal property be conducted only after all relevant impact studies, business planning, risk assessments, etc., have been properly completed and transparently made available for public examination. It is possible that some reuse of the old terminal property, such as for cruise ship tendering, may be financially feasible and acceptable to our citizenry. But the case has yet to be convincingly made. To summarize this position – do, and share, your homework before asking for input or making decisions!

Third, in the event that the preceding two clear and common sense propositions garner sufficient support, but the cruise ship berthing pier remains the only financially viable option for town reuse of the terminal property, we feel that it would be the height of irresponsibility to sign any purchase commitment by the current deadline of this November. If the state then decides to sell the property to a developer, yet another large hotel would hardly make a difference. The leveling off or gradual decrease of large cruise ship visitation that some foresee without a berthing pier would be a highly desirable long-term side benefit for our town. To summarize here, be prudent and fulfill your fiduciary responsibility to our citizens!

If the majority in our local community is in agreement with the above, let us not lose hope that we can make a difference in our shared future. To express agreement with the above and/or interest in participating in the development or operation of the envisioned Bar Harbor Residents Association, please send your name, email and phone number to [email protected] You will be notified of further steps, to be conducted respectfully and in the full spirit of democracy, once we get some indication of whether we should meet next in a phone booth or a large auditorium.

Supporters also are requested to share this announcement and request for involvement with friends and associates to the maximum extent possible.

Charles Sidman of Bar Harbor is a year-round resident and voter.

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