Cruise Ship Committee Doesn’t Have Copy of Draft Cruise Ship Plan MOA in Time For Discussion
BAR HARBOR—The Bar Harbor Harbormaster Chris Wharff told members of the Cruise Ship Committee that tendering some cruise ships on Ocean Properties on West Street has decreased traffic congestion in the area this year as opposed to when tendering only occurred closer to the corners of West Street and Main Street.
“Overall, I think it’s been very good,” Wharff said during the Friday afternoon meeting which was held over Zoom and began at 4 p.m.
Committee member and employee of Ocean Properties Eben Salvatore said, “The coordination and just the impact of the changes we all worked on in 2019,” created changes that have been snowballing positively. “To our credit, we worked hard on this in 2019.”
Everyone has been able to adapt very quickly, he said, and though there isn’t a head count available yet thought it would interesting to see how many people have been moved from the intersection of West Street and Main Street.
Sandy McFarland said that congestion is down and that most of the congestion is on Ocean Drive and Mt Desert Street. He suggested a drop off downtown for elderly people near the pharmacy within walking distance where they didn’t have to walk up or down the hill into town.
Amy Powers, a cruise ship representative who is not a voting member of the committee, said that her organization, CLIA, hasn’t heard anything negative about using the Ocean Properties’ land and dock for tendering.
Committee member Prentice “Skip” Strong said it takes a little bit longer to get people onshore and offshore when using the Ocean Properties’ dock. Wharff said that if the industry could possibly stagger the tendering instead of having everyone show up at once for the last tender of the day it would be helpful.
Memorandum of Agreement About Cruise Ship Plan Not In Committee Packet
When asked, Wharff said that a memorandum of agreement (MOA), also alternatively known as the cruise ship plan, has been created between the town and the industry, but didn’t feel comfortable discussing it until it had been looked at by town councilors. That MOA was not in the committee’s packet of materials. It was, however, Salvatore said, in the town councilors’ packets for their upcoming Tuesday meeting, September 20. That packet was released on Friday afternoon and is open for public review.
The three-page draft document would create an annual November review of that season’s data to review “the capacity of the town to manage the daily and monthly passenger capacities.” Any changes would be agreed on by the town and industry and take effect 18 months after signing.
It would not allow cruise ships between November 1 and April 30.
No more than three cruise ships could be at anchor on any day. Each month the harbormaster will only allow (first come, first serve) counting via lower berth until the monthly cap has been met.
30,000 May and June
40,000 July and August
65,000 September and October.
It would create daily lower berth capacity caps of 3,800 for May, June, September and October.
Those caps would be 3,500 for August and July. There would be no cruise ships allowed on July 4.
Prior reservations approved by the harbormaster before July 21, 2021 would still be honored even if limits are exceeded.
The council’s agenda included possibly authorizing the town manager to sign that MOA with the cruise lines that visit Bar Harbor; it may also be modified at the meeting.
Wharff said 2023 has just about twenty-eight ships scheduled to visit Bar Harbor. The caps for September and October were hit in July of 2021 when the process started, Wharff said. “May and June still have room. July and August as well.”
Strong asked about the cap and said ships are often lost to weather wondering if those losses would be able to made up for? Some ships have been looking at Portland to stop instead of Bar Harbor, CruiseMaine representative Sarah Flink said.
The memorandum and plan created by a working group that includes the town manager is a separate plan and not the same as the citizens’ petition brought forth and which will be voted on in November. That petition would limit cruise ship disembarkations and rely on daily counts. It inserts the harbormaster into the town’s land use ordinance. Proponents favor deeper cuts to daily visits. The measure will be voted on in November. That petition is also in the council packet and is part of the town warrant to be approved. There is a community forum scheduled at the YWCA about the citizens’ petition on September 21 at 6:30 p.m.
IMPACT of PROPOSED BAN OF CRUISE SHIPS FOR APRIL AND NOVEMBER
Now that there is private tendering, Salvatore said that it’s reasonable to ask the council to not ban cruise ships in April and November given the negative impact to the business community and that it’s important to extend the season and allow it to occur at a private tendering point. November 10 is the last cruise ship scheduled for 2022.
It’s a whole lot more revenue for the town or the seasonal businesses and a lot more important to the smaller guy than the bigger guy, Salvatore said. “That one did come at us out of the blue. There wasn’t any advance warning.”
He added, “Our job as a committee is to at least talk about it.”
Town Councilor Matthew Hochman said, “I have not heard a lot of comments on it. My feeling is that the council is probably not interested in bringing those back. It was kind of a compromise.” He felt that if there is any concession it would be on the April side rather than the November side.
Committee member Jeremy Dougherty asked about the reasoning for the April and November ban. Hochman said it was staffing issues and issues of not having the proper equipment in the water yet. Wharff said it was a lot of public works issues including plowing snow and floats in the parking lot and the presentation of town.
“I welcome a lot of hotel guests in April and November,” Dougherty said and added they have no problems with floats in the harbor parking lot or lack of benches.
Strong said the town was stretching its authority there especially if there is a private facility taking in the passengers. “We don’t shut down the road to the town in April and November.”
“The first credit card you swipe in April is a big deal,” Salvatore said. And for small businesses, their distress at the potential ban for those months was very clear and that was obvious in written comments and verbal comments to the council, he added.
Powers said most spring visits other than the Norwegian Pearl are repositioning visits.
Chair Martha Searchfield suggested reaching out to the business community and have it be a part of the discussion and possibly surveying the businesses about their data for those months.
Amy Powers suggested creating a tourism hotline similar to one in Juno, Alaska and having a dedicated person supported by a staff member collect compliments, complaints, and data. She said it seemed logical that the chamber of commerce would take on that role adding that Chamber President Alf Anderson should go to council in the next year and ask for funding for that position.
Searchfield said that a hotline is important for the town and it has to have a home where it can be taken care of.
Anderson said that the chamber would have to make sure that it could allocate resources for staff time and possibly share responsibility with the town and that it’s uncertain what the time commitment would be in the first three years. The chamber will look at it and it will be put on the next agenda.
He added that the tourism in Bar Harbor is much broader than those in Juno and that Bar Harbor has many tourists who are not all from cruise ships. Juno does both a phone number with a voicemail system and an online form, Powers said.
In a second public comment period, resident Jim O’Connell said that he’s talked to someone in Juno and that the point of it is useless and it’s all about themselves “looking like they are paying attention to the public. It’s a sham.”
During the first public comment period, Jim O’Connell discussed pollutants created by cruise ship travel comparing them to tractor trailers per an EPA study.
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