To the Editor:
A potential Bar Harbor Port Authority (BHPA) was first proposed by consultant Luis Ajamil as an alternative to the town ever owning the ferry terminal property. An email from Luis Ajamil to Paul Paradis of Oct. 27, 2016, states that, upon formation of the BHPA, the ferry terminal property “never gets transferred to the town.” It further states “if BHPA is not created, the town can use the property for tender and parking.”
The BHPA was intended to create a facility for the berthing of large cruise ships.
Port authorities in Maine are primarily engaged in handling cargo traffic and commercial shipping, as in Eastport. I know of no independent port authority authorized to simply run a municipal marina. Mount Desert runs its marina without any independent port authority.
The ferry terminal advisory committee rejected a big berthing pier, advised against increasing annual cruise ship visitation and recommended paying an extra million for the property to avoid interference by Augusta bureaucrats. A BHPA is designed for a big berthing pier, would need to be financed by increasing annual cruise ship visitation and would be an independent bureaucracy over which voters would have at best indirect control.
While any bond the town issues to finance development of a municipal marina at the ferry terminal must come before the voters, a BHPA can issue any bond it wants, with no local vote on the size of the bond. Controlling the size of the bond means controlling what is built.
The BHPA would have to pay a higher rate of interest and would have to own the ferry terminal property to have any real chance of getting outside financing for the bond.
While voters would eventually elect three of the five directors for the BHPA, that power, as LD 1400 is crafted, would not occur until the 2019 town meeting. For the first year of a BHPA, if voters approve its creation, the Town Council would have the power to appoint all five directors, three of whom would serve until the next town meeting. These first five directors could make decisions as to a long-term lease of the property, the size of the bond, et cetera, which no later board could undo.
The alleged need for a BHPA is to avoid placing real estate taxpayers at risk. However, the town always has the option of issuing the same type of revenue bonds that the BHPA could and neither would risk real estate tax payments. The town likely would pay a lower interest rate on a revenue bond than the BHPA, given its good credit rating.
A BHPA would have regulatory control over any shorefront property it owned or leased. It could build a very large pier and very large buildings, despite local opposition. It would not be subject to daily or annual cruise ship visitation limits imposed by the council. A BHPA could triple annual cruise ship passenger visits despite the wishes of a majority of Bar Harbor residents.
The advisory committee voted for local ownership, direct local control, a limit on annual cruise ship visitation and freedom from bureaucratic oversight. A BHPA runs contrary to each of these core principles the committee expressly endorsed.
To create a BHPA to run a modest multipurpose marina is to use a sledge hammer to put a thumb tack into a cork bulletin board. It is designed to run a huge cruise ship berthing pier, docking mega cruise ships, a ferry terminal and multiple onsite restaurants. However, in responses to the Bermello & Ajamil July survey, in the POLCO survey commissioned by the town, in the advisory committee’s report and in the council’s acceptance of the advisory committee’s recommendations, the town has rejected a huge berthing pier. How many more times must the good people of Bar Harbor say “no” before the Augusta politicians listen to us?