Approximately 40,000 passengers (27 cruise ships) already denied
BAR HARBOR—The Bar Harbor Town Council hosted a question and answer period about its new cruise ship plan during its meeting on Monday, Oct. 3. At its last meeting, Councilor Joe Minutolo suggested opening the plan up for public hearing, but a majority of the councilors voted to hold a question and answer period instead because the rules governing that sort of discourse are less stringent than the public hearings where councilors are not supposed to respond.
The cruise ship management plan was created by a working group and it creates a memorandum of agreement that would hold cruise lines accountable for two years. In 2023 they’ll be negotiating about the 2025 season.
The cruise ship management plan uses lower berth capacities to determine the amount of cruise ships allowed in Bar Harbor each month. Already there have been 27 ships turned away for next season based on that plan for a combined lower birth capacity of approximately 39,000. Lower berth capacities correlate directly with the size of the ship. The larger the ship, generally the larger the lower berth capacity number.
The session began at 6:45 p.m. when Council Chair Valerie Peacock presented the town’s plan and lasted until about 8 p.m.. Approximately 20 people were in attendance including town staff and board members.
Peacock explained that the plan began in spring 2021 when councilors used preexisting data to begin the talks about cruise ship reductions. In July it received survey results that are often cited by councilors. In August an initial management plan was formed. In February 2022 the council formed a working group and in the summer the town began negotiating with individual cruise lines. In August the Cruise Ship Management Plan was presented and a memorandum of agreement was approved in September. Currently, those agreements are being shared with individual cruise lines for signatures.
Peacock presented slides about the plan which included explanations of the restrictions.
Councilor Gary Friedmann said that if he and his constituents do not believe the plan has made enough of a difference, he will push for more reductions in the future.
Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce Director Alf Anderson expressed the chamber’s concerns over the lack of visits for April and November, a complaint echoing that of several business owners and employees during earlier council meetings.
Anderson asked if there were ways to address the challenges of preparing the town for winter and spring (November and April) through funding because having visits during those months were “very important to a lot of local businesses and their employees.”
Councilor Jill Goldthwait said it’s about getting floats in when the public works department isn’t confident about getting the plows off the trucks in time. “It’s just a logistical challenge,” she said.
Anderson said some businesses are specifically open in April and November just for cruise ships. “That means those employees won’t earn a paycheck.” He added, “This is removing something from somebody’s possible income. They built their businesses on it.”
Councilor Erin Cough said it was a big ask when there was a bigger amount of tourism traffic and potential visits from non-cruise-ship traffic during those months.
Anderson said that he hoped in the future there would be business representation on the working group that determined the cruise lines and town’s relationships, saying that though they had elected residents in the group (Peacock and Goldthwait), they did not have private business owners participating.
Cough said that Anderson’s questions separated the business community from the community at large and created a dichotomy she didn’t agree with. Businesses are part of the community, she said.
Private business owners are represented on the council and on the town’s cruise ship committee. Approximately 13% of the 2021 cruise ship survey’s respondents were private business owners.
CRUISE SHIPS AND ECONOMY
There was a short discussion about how cruise ship fees have helped support the purchase of police cruisers, an ambulance and fire engines. Cough said that cruise ships don’t just help the downtown community.
Councilor Joe Minutolo asked about parking ticket revenue lost on cruise ship days.
The income is no longer lost every day, Cough said.
Those spaces referenced generated less than $1,000 a day prior to the new system of getting passengers into town and into Acadia National Park. This system focuses more on busses and disembarkations at Ocean Property at its location further down West Street than the location closer to the intersection with Main Street. The new system makes it so those spaces have been used less than a dozen times this season.
Eben Salvatore said, “The 27 ships that are being told they are not welcome in Bar Harbor had a lower birth capacity of 40,000 passengers that $200,000 went right to the tax payer and it’s a $4 million economic loss for the economy.”
Salvatore was born in Bar Harbor, says he lives there now, and is an Ocean Property employee who also serves on multiple town committees including the Cruise Ship Committee and chairs the Parking Solutions Task Force.
CITIZENS PETITION AND POTENTIAL LEGAL ISSUES AND CONGESTION
A citizens petition will be before voters in November. This petition is unrelated to the town’s new Cruise Ship Management Plan. That petition is not a compromise with the industry and does not focus on lower berthing capacity. Instead, it focuses on daily passenger disembarkations, topping them at 1,000 a day with more allowed if $100 per person fines are paid.
Councilor Jeff Dobbs said the town will be working on a document to respond to the pros and cons of both the petition and the cruise ship management plan. Town Manager Kevin Sutherland agreed that additional staff resources would address the petition.
Vice Chair Matthew Hochman explained the different legal worries for the plan and the petition, saying of the town plan, “The legal ramifications between the MOU and town is there aren’t any. ” That’s because the cruise lines agreed to it. “There are conflicting views about the legal ramifications of the citizen’s initiative,” he said and that’s due to commerce laws and the freedom of movement of people between states, he said, adding, “There are some legal questions. They are called legal opinions for a reason.” Until a court rules on it, then everything is just an opinion, a legal opinion, he said.
Goldthwait said that cruise ships make up a total of 8% of Bar Harbor visitors and if the motivation is congestion, which is listed as a top concern in the survey, then they are only targeting 8% of all visitors who make up that congestion.
Goldthwait worried that it was actually a capacity problem for Bar Harbor beyond the cruise ships and compared dealing with that possible issue of capacity with how the town has dealt with parking and lodging problems in the past, wondering if it makes sense to continue to ramp up parking and lodging and restaurants when the town is potentially maxed out.
The day of the meeting had 5,000 cruise ship passengers visiting Bar Harbor. Salvatore asked Sutherland if there had been any complaints from department heads and Sutherland said that there had not been any.
Dobbs said he goes into Bar Harbor proper three times a day. “I’ve noticed that it’s like night and day between now and 2019. It’s different. It really is,” he said, saying that the cruise ships are behind the island and the new system has been helping. “It will be interesting to see what people say,” about the Cruise Ship Management Plan once it takes effect, he said. “It just seems and feels better.”
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RESOURCES TO LEARN MORE
For more information about the plan and lower berth capacities, click here. https://barharborstory.com/2022/09/29/new-town-manager-minutes-opens-access-to-top-bar-harbor-staff-and-officials/
Town water quality studies from 2004-2018 http://www.barharbormaine.gov/387/Water-Quality-Studies
Cruise Ship Tourism and Traffic Congestion Report (2019)
Bar Harbor Town Council Waits For Legal Consult Before Deciding to Put the Citizens Initiative on November Warrant
Bar Harbor Town Council Signs Agreement Limiting Cruise Ship Visits