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Bar Harbor voters to decide on cruise ship limits or a dock

(Photo: Anne Kalosh)
Currently all but the smallest ships have to anchor and tender passengers ashore at Bar Harbor
Voters from Maine's leading cruise port—Bar Harbor—will go to the polls next week to consider two divergent directions for the passenger ship business, which last year pumped more than $20m into the local economy.

One measure on the ballot, springing from a citizens' petition, would limit the size of ships coming alongside to 300 feet. It also would give voters—instead of the town council—the right to decide the daily passenger cap.

The other measure, put forward by the town council, would authorize a zoning change so the former international ferry terminal on the outskirts of Bar Harbor could be rebuilt as a cruise dock. Currently, all but the smallest ships anchor and tender passengers to a landing in the center of town.

A recent study by the University of Maine's School of Economics estimated cruise passenger spending in Bar Harbor had a $20.2m economic impact in 2016.

Since 2010, passenger numbers have been capped at 5,500 a day in spring and fall, and at 3,500 in July and August. The largest ship to call has been the 1,141-foot Anthem of the Seas.

Town council chairman Paul Paradis told the Bangor Daily News those numbers won't change even if the proposal to develop the ferry terminal as a cruise dock is approved. He said enabling bigger ships to dock would be safer than using tenders and reduce environmental impact since vessels wouldn't have to keep their engines running at anchor to maintain position.

Also, landing passengers at the former ferry pier would reduce congestion downtown. Tours could be dispatched from the terminal, alleviating the need for buses to clog the center of town. A shuttle service or water taxi could transport cruisers the short distance between the new dock and Bar Harbor.

Opponents of the town's plan are concerned about bigger and bigger ships coming to Bar Harbor, the potential for noise and pollution, and crowding on roads and at key attractions like Acadia National Park.

According to the Bangor Daily News, Bar Harbor town manager Cornell Knight said prime destinations like Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park sometimes have to be closed in the summer due to capacity issues, even on days when no cruise ships visit. He said more than 3m tourists come to Bar Harbor in the summer.

Last year cruise ships calling had capacity for 163,000 passengers, and the University of Maine's study calculated 138,285 passengers went ashore. This year, cruise calls are expected to climb by 66 to 171.

Bar Harbor's ferry terminal has been idle since 2009, and the town has been looking at options for its use as some type of public maritime facility. Several years ago, Bermello Ajamil & Partners assessed different uses, including resuming ferry options, and concluded the best revenue potential for Bar Harbor would be developing the site into a cruise dock.

The Bangor Daily News reports if voters approve the cruise dock plan, Bar Harbor would need to acquire the pier from the Maine Department of Transportation. However, if the citizens' initiative passes, the state would not sell the pier to the town. Should that happen, town manager Knight told the paper, the property would go to the highest bidder and Bar Harbor likely will lose public access to that area of the waterfront.

The vote is scheduled for June 13.

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