To the Editor:
Both the Islander, in its March 2 editorial, and Ed Damm, in his letter to the editor of that same date, underestimate the wisdom of the voters of Bar Harbor and the mesmerizing beauty of this island for visitors and residents alike.
On June 13, the voters of this town will determine whether they have final say over any increases to the current cruise ship passenger caps. A simple vote to preserve the status quo and let voters make any future decision to increase cruise ship passenger caps and cruise ship berthing length limits is the essence of democracy and honors our founding creed that any government derives its “just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Bar Harbor is one of the most educated towns in Maine, and its voters are skilled at analyzing the risks and benefits of choices placed before them. Right now, a bare four-person majority of the council could double the daily fall cruise ship passenger cap from 5,500 to 11,000 with no formal notice, no public hearing and no public vote.
If a Bar Harbor Port Authority is created, a bare three-person majority of that Authority’s Board of Directors could make a similar choice as to the ferry terminal over which it would have total operational authority. Only a change to the Land Use Ordinance (LUO) would limit such sudden changes.
Our LUO gives voters control over the number of rooms various transient accommodations may have in various districts in town and the number of unrelated people who might live in any dwelling. Should we not trust these same voters to decide whether a town of 5,235 people should be overwhelmed by 11,000 cruise ship passengers on a near daily basis?
This is not, as the Islander would have it, an attempt to micromanage the details of when roads get plowed, but an attempt to give voters a final say as to whether their small village nestled between the mountains and the sea should become more crowded than Times Square.
Nor should voters be reluctant to maintain the practice of large cruise ships tendering their passengers to piers and cruise ships of less than 300 feet in length berthing at a pier.
This 300-foot limit on berthed cruise ships would not apply to ferries, whale boats or any vessel other than a cruise ship. Cruise ships are far larger and draw far more water than any ferry that might ever visit Bar Harbor.
The Bluenose ferry was 346 feet long and had a draft of 17 feet. Harmony of the Seas is almost 1,200 feet long and has a draft of almost 31 feet. To allow a cruise ship that draws this much water and is this long to berth at the ferry terminal site will require massive dredging of Frenchman Bay or constructing a pier that, including the ferry terminal pier from which it would extend, would protrude almost a half mile into Frenchman Bay.
The town should proceed slowly by restoring the ferry terminal pier to a traditional Maine pier that could accept small cruise ships, whale watch boats and ferries to Winter Harbor. Such a pier could be extended later if the voters agree.
Finally, the Islander suggests that the ferry terminal would not be acquired by the town were it not able to build a mega-pier. Why? Consultant Luis Ajamil, at the Oct. 14, 2016 Planning Board meeting, made it clear that the terminal also would succeed financially at current passenger levels.
Bar Harbor is a premier destination. People drive eight hours or more, the last two-and-a-half hours over busy, crowded roads to get here. Don’t sell our town short.
Tendering of cruise ship passengers will not discourage visitors. Passengers have been tendered for years, yet annual visitation has continued to grow.
Perhaps an argument can be made for doubling or tripling the current passenger caps or extending a pier almost a half mile into Frenchman Bay.
However, that argument should be made to the voters of Bar Harbor through the careful process we use for all land use decisions: formal public notice, a full public hearing and an informed public vote.