Port authority means progress

By Sen. Brian Langley and Rep. Brian Hubbell

The Bar Harbor ferry terminal represents an important public asset with value both to Bar Harbor and to the state of Maine. Because of this public value, as your elected state representatives, we were able to convince the Maine Department of Transportation to purchase this property from the Canadian crown corporation Marine Atlantic. This purchase was completed this year at a cost to the state of $3.5 million.

We also recognize Bar Harbor’s interest in having control and oversight over any future development and operations at this facility, and so we have supported the state’s effort to transfer public ownership of the property to the municipal level.

Because the Department of Transportation has a statewide interest in preserving the property’s unusual value as a marine facility and key regional transportation hub, the state has extended an offer to the town of Bar Harbor to purchase the property for a million dollars below the state’s cost (and perhaps four million dollars below market value) on the condition that the town does not first restrict by ordinance the future uses of the property.

That option lies in the hands of Bar Harbor voters this June.

This legislative session, at the request of town officials, the two of us sponsored LD 1400, “An Act to Create the Bar Harbor Port Authority.” There has been some confusion and misinformation about this proposal, so we would like to take this opportunity to explain it further.

This bill was written in conjunction with the town manager and the Town Council, who voted to support the introduction of this bill. If passed, this bill authorizes the town of Bar Harbor to proceed with the process of creating a port authority. The legislature only frames the legal structure of the port authority and makes its approval contingent on the will of the people.

Misinformation is circulating from people who generally oppose cruise ship traffic suggesting that this legislation single-handedly creates a port authority and sets the destiny of development at the terminal.

While state law is initially required to enable a new port authority, state enactment is not the only required vote. This legislation only takes full effect when approved at referendum by the voters of Bar Harbor.

Our bill simply puts the option of creating a Bar Harbor Port Authority in the hands of the Bar Harbor voters.

We have noticed a significant effort by out-of-state interests to deny the voters of Bar Harbor the ability to vote on this issue, thereby prompting us jointly to write to explain the intention, status and timeline of our bill.

LD 1400 currently has been carried over until the 2018 legislative session pending the outcome of the citizen referendum Article 13 at the upcoming Bar Harbor town meeting.

If this local land use referendum Article 13 passes, then the Department of Transportation will withdraw its agreement with the town and sell the property to the highest bidder. One could easily envision this property becoming a hotel complex.

If Article 13 fails, then our bill LD 1400 will be amended to reflect the later implementation date. Once enacted in Augusta, it will then be voted on by the citizens of Bar Harbor. The outcome of that referendum vote will determine whether or not a port authority is formed.

It is important to the two of us that the destiny of this property be determined through good public process by the citizens of Bar Harbor and not misrepresented or misunderstood by outside money and interests. We both firmly believe that comprehensive public benefits are reached only through citizens empowered by the full scope of information and proper public process.

Brian Langley (R-Hancock) is in his fourth term in the Senate and represents District 7, comprised of 27 towns in Hancock County, including Bar Harbor.

Brian Hubbell (D-Bar Harbor) is in his third term in the House of Representatives and represents House District 135, Bar Harbor, Lamoine and Mount Desert.

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