Regulating cruise visitation

Many years of discussion and debate in Bar Harbor about cruise ship visitation and the former international ferry terminal will culminate in a council vote informed by the results of the advisory committee’s work in a few more weeks.

The council will decide by Nov. 30 whether to purchase the property from the Maine Department of Transportation and under what terms. The price is $2 million if the town has a business plan and interested developers and is willing to have the DOT review the business plan in five years’ time. For $2.5 million, the town can have the property with no business plan complete but still must have the review. Or, the state has offered to bow out completely and place no restrictions on the property. But if they do, they must recoup the complete $3.5 million investment they already have made.

Members of the town’s advisory committee and its subcommittees are to be commended for their willingness to serve in such a complicated, contentious and high-stakes project.

The committee process was designed amid cries that there were insufficient opportunities for the public to weigh in on possible uses of the property. But the Planning Board spent more than a year drafting the new zoning that became Article 12, including several public meetings with Maine Port Authority or Department of Transportation officials. Ideas for uses of the property could have been brought to any of those meetings or the public hearings on the measure, and they were.

Residents are mightily concerned about development of the terminal resulting in more and larger ships, carrying many more passengers. The feasibility study done for a berthing pier at the ferry terminal assumed no changes to passenger caps, but a graph of “Cruise Traffic Assumptions” showing steep future growth made a lot of people nervous.

How many ship visits are allowed, how large the ships are, where they anchor or berth, and when they come all are appropriate concerns for the town to consider. Town government can take as long as necessary to consider and vet proposals; they need not be tied to the timeline for the ferry terminal.

The land use ordinance is not the proper place for harbor regulations like passenger caps, but the current policies are not written into the harbor ordinance. Perhaps they should be. Then any changes to those rules would follow public notice, hearings and more community input.

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