To the Editor:
The Islander’s editorial of July 13, “Saving the Great Harbor,” assumes that only the state can step in and limit cruise ship visitation to privately owned piers in Southwest Harbor and Northeast Harbor.
As a lawyer, I have dealt with the interplay between state, federal and local law in the area of regulating commerce for 40 years. While any Maine town has limited jurisdiction over its waters, it has very strong regulatory authority over its land.
Every coastal Maine town, under Maine’s Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act, has express authority to regulate structures that begin on the land and extend over the water. Thus, any town in Maine can impose limits through its land use ordinance on cruise ship passengers using any pier in that town, regardless of whether the pier is privately owned.
No MDI town needs wait for a divided legislature and an unpredictable governor to rescue it from being swamped by cruise ship passengers. Any MDI town could pass a moratorium on cruise ship passengers disembarking on any pier, and then amend its Land Use Ordinance at the next election to place limits on cruise ship passengers.
As no private pier owner beyond Bar Harbor has yet established any grandfathered status, the time for island governments to act is now.
Nor should the editorial assume that “Bar Harbor is making plans to manage cruise ship visitation there in a forthright and thoughtful way with the creation of a terminal at the former international ferry facility.” Bar Harbor, against the advice of its town counsel, Ed Bearor, Esq., signed an option agreement with the MDOT that gives the MDOT, not Bar Harbor voters, control over how large a cruise ship facility is built. If Bar Harbor buys the land and the MDOT is dissatisfied with the size of the terminal that the town builds, the MDOT can reclaim the land. It can pay the town nothing unless the MDOT resells the land. This option agreement was negotiated behind closed doors and signed by the town in haste.
I requested under the Freedom of Access Act that the town provide me with every document leading to the signing of the option agreement. Based upon the town’s response, I prepared a time line of that negotiating history. I invite any Islander reader to contact me at my Bangor law firm should they wish to read either the timeline or the documents upon which the timeline is based.
Governor LePage’s MDOT and the Miami-based cruise ship industry got what they wanted. The voters of Bar Harbor did not.