Town’s Cruise Ship Management Plan Floats Forward Past Split Council

Plan creates caps on cruise ships

BAR HARBOR—A split council supported the town’s working group’s cruise management plan at

the Bar Harbor Town Council’s August 16 meeting, voting 5-2 in favor, with Councilors Val Peacock, Matthew Hochman, Erin Cough, Jeff Dobbs, and Jill Goldthwait voting in favor and Joe Minutolo and Gary Friedmann voting against. That vote was mirrored when it came to instructing the town manager to draft a memorandum of understanding between the town and the cruise ship industry and bringing it back to the council for discussion and possible approval, as well as  allowing the harbormaster to continue to book cruise ships for the upcoming season. All councilors supported drafting a shoreside vending ordinance.

The plan would ban cruise ship visits in April and November as well as have a cap of 3,800 in September and October. The current daily cap is 5,500 for those months. The new plan would allow no more than three cruise ships each day. During July and August the monthly limit would be 40,000. That limit would be 65,000 in September and October.  The limit in May and June would be 30,000.

The plan is backed by the cruise industry. Many Bar Harbor residents complained of overcrowding in the downtown area because of cruise ships.

Earlier in the meeting, Town Manager, Kevin Sutherland, presented citizen and business owner comments and emails concerning the plan created by the cruise ship management working group that was appointed by the Town Council. Sutherland was a member of that working group, which created a management plan focusing on lowering the amount of cruise ship visits to the town.

Sutherland said that cruise ship fees are collected based on the lower berth capacity, which is the “beds on boat” or guest capacity. This is regardless of the actual number of passengers who leave the vessel, and is the least staff-intensive model, Sutherland said of the management plan, and added that there was a greater level of control with the monthly caps as opposed to the citizens’ petition which is about daily disembarkations.

He also prepared a question and answers document as a result of those emails.

While Sutherland, other town staff, some department heads and councilors are working on the management plan, a citizen’s initiative will be on the November town warrant creating a different plan for the reduction of cruise ship disembarkations.

COUNCIL WEIGHS IN

With the working group’s management plan’s approval, reductions will be in place no matter what the fate of the citizen’s petition to reduce cruise ship disembarkations, Hochman said. The management plan is something that the industry has agreed to and worked with the town on, he added, which protects the town in a lot of different ways. He said the plan doesn’t preclude future actions. He likened it to the first step of crawling whereas the citizen’s initiative is more like dancing, and in order to dance, you have to first crawl and assess and see if the problems with congestion and overcrowding are being alleviated or not, he said.

“Thirty years ago, the council did nothing with cruise ships. The chamber of commerce turned a blind eye to cruise ships,” said Dobbs and added that for twenty years the town didn’t really deal with the cruise ships. All this work now is making up for that, he stressed.

“We need to start with this,” Dobbs said, referencing the working group’s management plan. He added that he completely supported the plan. 

Meanwhile, the citizens’ petition will go before voters in November, and some councilors continued to express concerns about the legality of the petition. The citizens’ petition calls for much more reductions, focusing on passenger disembarkations as compared to the working group plan. The working group’s plan supports daily and monthly caps and no cruise ships in April and November.

Councilor Joe Minutolo worried that the working group’s plan didn’t have enough reductions. The argument against cruise ship passengers in town every day used to be that 2,000 people is too many for the town to handle, he said, but now the prevailing thought is that 3,800 daily visits are too much.

“We have a capacity problem in town,” Goldthwait said, adding that this was especially true now that the park is turning people away. She said that there is a legal issue about potentially restricting the 8% of visitors who come in via cruise ship and compared to the 92% of visitors who don’t. She believes that the goal and challenge is to find an acceptable solution for the people of Bar Harbor adding that the cruise ship management plan is a workable proposal, with less legal risk, and it will create some reductions in congestion.

“We’ve put so many years and so much effort to get this far, which does do something, I’m saying let’s take it and go from there,” Goldthwait said of the working group’s plan.

Friedman said he believes the citizen initiative is a guaranteed lawsuit, and that this plan is not his preference, but it is something.

“The best thing is that it has us in real communication and constructive dialogue with the cruise lines themselves,” he said, adding that Bar Harbor’s goal is to have a downward trajectory.  He later voted against several aspects of the plan, along with Minutolo.

SHOULDER SEASON, CONTINUING DISCUSSIONS AND MORE WORK

Many people who emailed had worries about the shorter cruise season with no cruises in April and November. Sutherland said that choice was about the weather, plowing, sanding, and having comfort stations open and ready. He also said weather conditions are unfavorable in April on the water, which makes tendering dangerous. He added that staffing for parking enforcement isn’t filled until the middle of May and that finger floats might not be in the water in April. Sutherland said there is a limited number of trash cans out and fountains are being winterized and/or revitalized. April and November are transition times for public works, he said. Those months, however, are not cruise ship congestion times currently.  

Sutherland said he’d work to answer any follow-up questions.

“I’ve been more in the facilitative role. I’m new to the community and I came in with an unbiased understanding, or no understanding, about cruises,” Sutherland said of his role on the working committee. He added that all the members of the working group had grown more knowledgeable thanks to  all the labor and research. Peacock echoed those statements, speaking of hours spent at the harbormaster’s office. Sutherland also thanked the community for asking questions after his presentation at the August 2 council meeting. Cough thanked Peacock, Goldthwaite and the Cruise Ship Committee, which met and discussed the working group’s plan last week.

“We’re all thinking about this. We’re all trying to find solutions to this,” Cough said, referencing the work of the town and staff and volunteers on committees.


WANT TO LEARN MORE? CHECK OUT THESE LINKS!

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The Cruise Management Plan Question and Answer document

To read the comments sent to the town manager (and the rest of the council packet), click here. Public comment specifically about the cruise ships are from 47-94.

Our story about last week’s Cruise Ship Meeting is here.

For more information about the Cruise Ship Committee.

To view all past agendas and minutes.

For a history of the cruise ship fees uses in town for the past eight years.

For information about the town’s cruise ship management presentation.

For an earlier article with more information about the citizens’ initiative to decrease cruise ship disembarkations.

Agendas for past meetings are here.

Cruise ship information is here.

For more information on the Town Council, its meetings, agendas, or to contact its members, click here.

An article from Yale Law & Policy Review about the Dormant Commerce Clause.

For volunteer opportunities to serve on one of the town’s boards or committees, click here.


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