Bar Harbor voters next week have the opportunity to weigh in on two competing visions for the future management of cruise ship visitation here. We urge support of Article 12, and rejection of Article 13.
Those who signed the petition to place Article 13 on the warrant are earnest in their concerns about the management of cruise ship visitation. This newspaper has long advocated for an examination into what the future holds, not just for cruise ships, but for every mode of transportation as islandwide visitations continue to swell.
Article 12, however, which has been in the works for more than five years, provides the town with the widest range of options for crafting a solution. That makes the most sense from an economic, environmental and community character standpoint.
First and foremost, it would allow the town to shift the focus of visitation from the municipal pier to the former Bluenose ferry terminal property on Eden Street. Getting the current scrum off the town pier will remove a veritable wall of buses, shuttle buses and taxis that daily stand between Agamont Park and the sea. This shift will significantly improve access to the town pier, opening the area to increased use by residents and other visitors.
During this debate, the more passionate proponents of Article 13 have exceeded traditional political hyperbole in an effort to gain support for their position.
For example, no half-mile-long pier is up for a vote or has ever been contemplated. No existing ships can carry 10,000 passengers – currently the largest have about half that capacity – nor are any that large even on the drawing board. Also, the town’s passenger cap which, as an experiment, will be exceeded on just one day in 2018, remains at 5,500 – right where it has been for more than a decade.
Despite assertions to the contrary, there have been, and will continue to be, ample opportunities for public input concerning cruise ship passenger caps.
Every meeting the town’s Cruise Ship Committee and Town Council have had on passenger caps over the years has been open to the public, following agendas that were published and posted in advance. The public has had ample opportunity to speak at every council meeting. Voters regularly can elect or cast out members of the Town Council. Two or three seats are up for election every year.
With approval of Article 12, any future development of the Eden Street site would be done only with the full participation and knowledge of the citizenry, at every step of the process.
Critics have painted the creation of a local port authority as an end-run around the people. Even were the proposal approved by the state legislature, it still would need to be approved by a future Bar Harbor town meeting vote. Residents regularly would elect a majority of its representatives. Port authorities have been valuable local management entities in Eastport, Searsport and Portland for generations, with no suggestion of wild-eyed conspiracies or skullduggery.
With the recent surge in public interest, the council needs to give cruise ship matters a significantly higher profile. A public hearing, though not required by law, would encourage the public’s participation well in advance of any decisions that need to be taken. Unfair criticism that “everything” was done in secret, in the past, needs to be recognized and aggressively addressed.
Ironically, the only political actions kept secret during this debate are the names and political affiliations of outside interests that have funneled major amounts of money into pro-Article 13 advertising campaigns.
From a good governance standpoint, caps on cruise ship visitation and similar restrictions do not belong in the land use ordinance (LUO). LUOs govern land uses. Separate ordinances or more formal policies are proper vehicles to determine day-to-day management decisions. The whole town shouldn’t be required to vote on less important matters. Residents elect the Town Council, and the council employs professionals to manage the town activities.
Should Article 13 prevail, the chance for Bar Harbor to preserve a rare and irreplaceable connection with the sea and, by extension, Canada and the rest the world, will be lost forever in the shadow of yet another resort hotel.
Those who want the community to retain a message of welcome to people from around the globe who come to Bar Harbor by sea need to vote “yes” on Article 12, and “no” on Article 13.