By Charles Sidman
This guest opinion is written to explain the background and issues involved in what many regard as two uncomplicated and common sense citizens’ initiatives to protect essential values and characteristics in our treasured town.
Question 4 restores former but since discarded citizen control of local town government, and Question 5 prevents docking of large cruise ships in Bar Harbor that otherwise is allowed under present ordinances. In brief, issues involved center on environment, economy and governance.
Concerning the environment, large cruise ships are immense floating cities with greater populations than our entire town. Allowing them to dock (rather than stay offshore and tender passengers into town) puts concentrations of pollution, and immense physical scale, right next to shores on which such characteristics are not and would never be allowed.
Do we want our town to look, feel and be perceived like Miami, Key West and Nassau? Generally, do we want to sell our birthright to large international business and financial interests for short-term exploitation and plunder, leaving our island and planet damaged and diminished for future generations and those less fortunate?
Regarding our economy, we continue to depend far more on long-term and repeat visitors, seasonal residents, regional neighbors and resident voters, rather than short-term visitors as epitomized by cruise ship passengers.
Nevertheless, as local business owners, we hear ever more frequently that the Bar Harbor that our customers once loved has become so congested and unpleasant that they simply do not and will not come any more, especially during the busy season when large cruise ship passengers swamp the sidewalks.
Ever-greater catering to the cruise ship industry is “killing the goose that laid the golden egg” and, if unchecked, will continue to erode and compromise our sustainable local economy and traditions, for the benefit mainly of a few large international firms and non-resident business owners. Are we truly so “penny-wise, pound-foolish”?
Lastly, concerning governance, our town officials now openly express the view that they alone are in charge and can rule however they choose, despite paying lip service to being public servants. Thus they voice disdain and disapproval for citizens’ initiatives in general, that remain the only public check and balance between staggered Town Council elections.
Moreover, our officials continue to ignore longstanding previous agreements that voter registration should be a requirement for active participation in town governance and decision-making. These local issues of citizenship and rule of law are analogous to those facing us nationally with our present administration. Will we the voters acquiesce and go quietly into the night at either level, or exert our voices and votes to take back our town and country?
Some of the major, and specious in this writer’s opinion, arguments against Question 4 are as follows. First, it is said that various town committees, boards, etc., are merely advisory to the decision-making Town Council. But when has the council not adopted a recommendation from one of these committees, even when up to a majority of members are non-resident and seemingly conflicted business representatives who do not even take and report formal votes?
Second, it has been argued that depriving non-resident business representatives of voting power “disenfranchises” them; what about our non-resident property owners, regional neighbors, visitors, etc., whose voices have been excluded on principle from all deliberations to date?
Finally, town officials repeatedly tell us that approving this ballot issue will eliminate important boards and deprive the town of needed expertise.
Neither is true, as the initiative states clearly, and as has been emphasized many times, non-resident expertise is valuable and can and should continue (just not with voting privileges).
Precedent is clear that legislative bodies can consult with experts as they wish, but it is inaccurate as well as insulting to even suggest that local officials would not participate without a formal vote on the outcome. Non-citizen outside business interests and representatives can make their own decisions.
On Question 5, untenable objections have included that someone might be confused between ferries and cruise ships (ignoring law, dictionaries and all industry participants). Alternatively, a limitation on pier length would prevent any future growth, use or even repair of non-conforming structures (the LUZO clearly provides that the use of non-conforming structures may continue, and that such structures can be extended or enlarged in any way that does not increase the non-conformity).
Finally, it is claimed that passage of Question 5 would prevent realization of the Ferry Terminal Property Advisory Committee FTPAC recommendation for developing a multi-use facility, although as seen in the only proposal shared to date with the public, that of consultants Bermello & Ajamil, a multi-use facility does not have to extend the length of the major Ferry Terminal pier.
Most troubling and importantly, voters need to know that legal mechanisms currently exist for the town to allow docking of large cruise ships at the Ferry Terminal pier (to say nothing about other, private facilities.)
Passage of Article 12 in 2017 explicitly put cruise ship docking onto the approved list of uses, and the contract with Atlantic Fleet Services allows subleasing to “other entities” as permitted by council.
Can it be any clearer why voters should pass Ballot Question 5, as the only reliable control in the way of the long-planned (at least since 2012) and clearly intended by some (the port description for Bar Harbor on cruisemapper.com refers to “a plan for conversion of port’s old international ferry terminal to a combined ferry-cruise terminal facility”) docking of large cruise ships in Bar Harbor?
Finally, any unforeseen ambiguity or future development approved by voters can always be corrected or allowed by appropriate town vote, with voters remaining in charge.
Please vote yes on ballot questions 4 and 5 on Tuesday, June 11.
Charles Sidman is Chair of the Citizen Petition Committees for Questions 4 and 5. He is owner or co-owner of several Bar Harbor businesses. He lives in Bar Harbor.