Split Warrant Committee Votes Against Recommending Citizens’ Petition About Cruise Ship Disembarkation Plan Echoing Town Officials’ Worries
BAR HARBOR—In a 9-6 vote at its Thursday night meeting, the Bar Harbor Warrant Committee recommended voters adopt a cruise ship disembarkation plan that would limit cruise ship disembarkations to 1,000 or less a day. Bar Harbor voters will have the final say on the plan, which creates changes to the town’s land use ordinance, at the November election. The plan stems from a citizens’ petition organized by Charles Sidman, Amy Sidman, Barbara Fenderson, Art Greif, Donna Karlson, Pat Murphy, and Jim O’Connell.
Committee members voting against recommendation included Julie Berberian, Caleb Cough, Kevin DesVeaux, Louise Lopez, Bethany Reece, Eben Salvatore, Chris Smith, Kathleen St. Germain, and Jeff Young. Committee members voting to recommend included Robert Chaplin, Carol Chappell, Meagan Kelly, Seth Libby, Allison Sasner, and Ezra Sassaman.
A special task force of town officials has created a different plan that’s a compromise between the town and the cruise ship industry. It creates monthly caps of visits according to ships’ lower berth capacities instead of limits on daily disembarkations and would not require land use ordinance changes.
Those supporting the citizens’ petition changes said that it would decrease congestion downtown and help alleviate environmental concerns around cruise ships, protecting the water and air around Bar Harbor. Those opposed to the change worried about potential lawsuits, potential tax increases and negative effects on businesses. Town officials also spoke to the issues of how it would impact town staff, what would be required to count the disembarkations, and enforcement issues.
If approved, the changes could also cause some ripple effects throughout the land use ordinance that would have to be dealt with by staff, citizens, and elected officials, according to Town Planner Michele Gagnon and Town Manager Kevin Sutherland.
Gagnon said that by putting the petition in the land use ordinance, petitioners are “growing the monster,” the monster being the land use ordinance. “When we keep putting things in the land use ordinance? It is not well advised, but it is literally making problems down the road.”
If voters pass the petition, it would be placed into a portion of the land use ordinance that’s meant to deal with one-time uses and creates an expectation that code enforcement is supposed to monitor it every single day, Sutherland said. The placement within the land use ordinance doesn’t make sense, he said.
Sutherland said that the town does not currently count the number of people who get off the boat but the capacity of the boats to hold people.
If the petition passes, the town would have to count the number of people coming off the boats each day. For example, on any given day, no more than 5,500 lower berth capacity of all boats are allowed in the anchorage for each day in the month of September. The petition would specify that only 1,000 people get off each day in September or else the entity the disembark to (town or private) would incur per person fees, allowing one-fifth of the current daily amount.
ROLE OF THE HARBORMASTER
Sutherland also worried about the role of the harbormaster, who is specified in the petition and if that petition passes, he would then be a part of the land use ordinance. Though the harbormaster is an employee of the town, the details of the position and rules governing it are not in the town’s land use ordinance, but in state statue. The proposal creates confusion about that position because it puts the harbormaster in the land use ordinance, Sutherland said.
The warrant committee’s subcommittee that met prior to the Thursday meeting, recommended the adoption of the petition creating a limit on cruise ship disembarkations, 3-2. That committee is chaired by Carol Chappell.
Prior to the warrant committee’s deliberations, five members of the public spoke for less than three minutes each and all were in support of the petition.
“I’m not going to debate here the fundamental Bar Harbor sentiment. . . . The goal of this initiative is a positive one,” Sidman, petitioner and one of the five speaking in favor, said. He quickly addressed legal liability and said that cruise ships are basically intruders in a home threatening to sue the home owners if they are made to leave. Bar Harbor, in his comparison, would be the homeowner.
When asked about the shortfall of $1 million in revenue to the town, Sidman said that in his opinion that lower cruise traffic would lead to lower expenses and that there are multiple avenues for increasing income for the town.
Committee member Eben Salvatore took issue with what he said was erroneous language in the purpose of the petition itself, where it states,
“The unchecked and continued influx of disembarking cruise ship visitors in the downtown area jeopardizes the Town’s ability to deliver municipal services to Town residents and visitors (for example, cruise ship visitors), including the provision of public safety services (police and fire), emergency medical services (EMS), in-patient and out-patient services at local hospitals, pandemic control measures, and public sanitation services, and also impacts the ability of local shops, restaurants, and other businesses to attract and serve customers.”
At an earlier meeting it was stated that Sidman, the main petitioner, had not talked to public safety about their inability to provide service because of the cruise ships and it was indicated at the meeting that this was not true.
Both Salvatore and the petition’s supporter pointed to a town survey where most of the over 1,000 respondents supported some limitation of cruise ship visits. That survey is linked below. Salvatore said, citing the survey, “Eight percent said reduce passengers per day or per season. Three times as many of people said to reduce the overall number of ships.”
The petition focuses on daily disembarkations
If the ordinance passes, it is possible to change the disembarkation numbers lower or higher, but it would require planning board review and if moved through that board and then the town council, it would have to be voted on at the annual town meeting, which could take two summer seasons for those changes to take place, Sutherland said.
The committee also discussed the cleanliness of French Man Bay and Bar Harbor’s waters. Salvatore cited Dr. Jane Disney’s testing of the Bar Harbor waters, Bar Harbor Cruise Ship Monitoring report and found the water quality was good.
Chappell said that the ships in the harbor now hold their fluids and bacteria, but that there are other environmental concerns such as exhaust, which can go in the air or the water. Member Robert Chaplin said that he interned with Dr. Disney and said they are always worried about sulfur dioxide. He said that cruise ship propeller noise disrupts communications between right whales. Reports about water quality are linked below.
Warrant committee member and subcommittee member Kathleen St. Germain said “I’m a little concerned that we’ve lost sight of what we’re supposed to do,” and said she worried that some people on the committee are working only toward what is best for them. She said the other cruise ship plan created by the town manager and Cruise Ship Task Force is a good start and the citizens’ petition is too drastic a cut. She too worried about lengthy lawsuits with high legal fees that the town could incur if the petition passes.
“The citizen’s petition just ruffles feathers,” St. Germain said.
Member Kevin DesVeaux said “People keep talking about let the town do the tendering.” There are currently seven job openings in the town and he wondered where the staffing to support the disembarkations is going to come from and where employees would be housed, what buildings would be required to enforce the ordinance, stressing that he prefers the task force plan, and the spirit of communication, collaboration, and compromise.
CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
This August, the committee took up the issue of potential conflicts of interests of two of its members, Eben Salvatore and Kevin DesVeaux. Charles Sidman, the petitioner, said that the two men had conflicts because both work in businesses where cruise ships impact. Salvatore works for Ocean Properties, which tenders passengers. DesVeaux owns a downtown restaurant and spoke at a town council meeting about how his restaurant is positively impacted by diners from cruise ships. A split committee voted that both men could be a part of deliberations and discussion.
At this week’s Thursday night meeting, Diane Vreeland attempted to talk about conflict of interest of the two men during the public comments, but Chair Seth Libby said that the matter had already been settled and voted on and could not be discussed again.
However, deeper digging shows that in the town’s code of ethics, a conflict of interest can be pecuniary or a “special interest.” The document defines “immediate family” as a “spouse, children, parents, brothers, sisters, stepparents, grandparents…” and so on. It further defines a “special interest” as follows.
One of the petitioners for the cruise ship is Jim O’Connell. He is married to Carol Chappell of the warrant committee and the head of the subcommittee that did the deliberations about all the potential land use amendments (Appendix A, two-thirds rule, marijuana retail stores and licensing and the cruise ship disembarkation plan). She and two other members of the warrant committee (Meagan Kelly, Ezra Sassaman) also signed the cruise ship petition and voted in favor of its recommendation at the Thursday night meeting. Chappell’s potential conflict of interest was not brought up by herself or others at the warrant committee meetings.
The Bar Harbor Story reached out to Chappell for comment, but she didn’t respond by press time. If she does, we’ll update the story or post a second article.
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT A LOT OF THE DIFFERENT TOPICS TOUCHED ON IN THIS ARTICLE
Our last article about potential conflicts of interest on the warrant committee.
Our past article about the the cruise ship management plan that went before the council (not the citizens’ petition).
Code of Ethics, Petition, and Cruise Ship Survey
Water Quality Monitoring Reports
MDI Bio Lab Cruise Ship Monitoring Report 2018
Marine Vessels Air Emissions 1-2020
CLIA_Health and Safety-Factsheet_June 2020_Global
CLIA_Environmental Responsibility-Factsheet_9 June 2020_Global-US
CLIA_Economic Impact-Factsheet_June 2020_Global
CLIA_Destination Stewardship-Factsheet_June 2020_Global
Current Cruise Ship Information About Ships and Schedule
Cruise Management Plan Information
Cruise Ship Operations and Management Presentation to Council August 3, 2022 (Video beginning 2:46.50)