To the Editor:
Where’s the emergency?
On Tuesday, Feb. 7, the Bar Harbor Town Council was asked to endorse “emergency” state legislation pending in Augusta to create the Bar Harbor Port Authority. Councilors Stivers, Friedmann and Hochman expressed several thoughtful reservations about legislation they had had but two business days to study. Thanks to Anne Greenlee’s critical vote in support of their concerns, the matter was tabled on a 4-3 vote until the next council meeting on Feb. 21.
Every voter in Bar Harbor should review this legislation, which is found online at the town’s website at pages 84-88 of the 88 page packet for the Feb. 7, council meeting. Every voter should realize that this emergency legislation could result in ownership of the ferry terminal site by a corporate authority over which the citizens of Bar Harbor would have no control.
The pending statute, whose drafter is identified only as “KND,” announces that Bar Harbor faces an “emergency” such that creating the Bar Harbor Port Authority is “necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety.” Oh really? The legislation, whose sponsor is Republican State Sen. Brian Langley from Ellsworth, would give the Bar Harbor Port Authority the power to construct “industrial parks, transportation and warehouse facilities, roads and other facilities on the land and in the waters within the limits of the town of Bar Harbor.” This Bar Harbor Port Authority would have the power to acquire property “within the land of the town of Bar Harbor” through the “right of eminent domain.” Property it acquired would be exempt from taxation. The proceeds from leases would flow to the Port Authority. What control would voters in Bar Harbor have over a Port Authority with these sweeping powers? The answer is almost none.
If the Legislature passes this emergency legislation and we voters approve it in a single up or down vote on or before June 13, we will have lost public control and the possibility of public access and public ownership of the ferry terminal site. A majority of this Port Authority’s board would be appointed by people over whom the voters of Bar Harbor have no control: Republican Gov. LePage, the Penobscot Bay Pilots Association and the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce. The voters would have only indirect control over the remaining two directors who would be appointed by the Town Council. Why would the Town Council agree to such legislation? Council Chair Paradis suggested that direct election of the board by Bar Harbor voters might be a “source of contention.”
Democracy is and always will be a contentious affair. Full and fair debate in public forums inevitably leads to the best result for all. Hurried decisions made with no notice to the public rarely work well. Our founders wrote that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.” A council goal for the current year was “increasing citizen participation in and satisfaction with town government.” It is a repudiation of that goal and of our founding ethos to surrender potential public control of land so important to the citizens of Bar Harbor.
There is no threat to the public peace, health and safety that can possibly justify this emergency legislation. Because it will not be a public hearing, every voter should let our councilors know by phone or email before the Feb. 21 meeting that the council needs to make a stand for democracy and say “no” to this rush to surrender our rights as citizens.