Terminal rezoning

Officials in the Maine Department of Transportation have every right to request the town of Bar Harbor rezone the Eden Street ferry terminal property before they proceed with acquisition of the parcel. Considering the community’s propensity to quibble over just about everything, it makes sense to establish clear parameters for what would be allowed on the property before spending $5 million in state taxpayer money.

There always has been some grumbling in Bar Harbor about the effects of cruise ship visitation. While many appreciate the nautical connection to the wider world and enjoy seeing a gleaming ocean liner in the harbor, for others, the presence of a cruise ship is akin to having a large recreational vehicle blocking their private driveway.

As Town Councilor Gary Friedmann pondered last week, with 3 million visiting the area annually, which visitor category finally will push the town’s capacity over the edge. When sidewalks are crowded downtown, it is easy to blame passengers from ships. But crowding is more a cumulative affect.

For example, most of the times when the road to the top of Cadillac Mountain was shut down due to traffic congestion, there were no ships in port, automatically eliminating the most obvious suspect.

The question, then, is who first should be forced to change their visitor expectations? Tour bus visitors? Recreational vehicle operators? Day trippers in private cars? Cruise ship operators?

A number of management imperatives would benefit from removing cruise ship shore operations from clogging the town pier, Agamont Park and the West Street area. Those imperatives remain valid, regardless of one’s view about what level of visitation is appropriate.

Fortunately, the ongoing study of the cruise pier plan suggests that the facility would be economically viable even without an increase in the number of ships being accommodated.

Preserving the ferry terminal property for marine uses also assures the town’s status as a Class A port of entry in the state of Maine and protects its potential should reestablishment of ferry service to Canada be contemplated in the future. No other state location would be as suitable. Bar Harbor, which enjoyed a relationship with Nova Scotia for more than 50 years, would be removed permanently from the running were the terminal no longer available for marine uses.

If this property slips away, it likely will be lost to public use forever. Doomed to be just another waterfront hotel, the economic vitality resulting from such viable commercial access to the water would be a permanent loss to the island, the region and the state.

The establishment of a cruise ship pier at the ferry terminal property and the establishment of appropriate levels for cruise ship visitation are independent issues worthy of robust debate. Preserving and encouraging irreplaceable access to the maritime environment, for current and future uses, should be top priority for any Maine waterfront community.

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