June 23, 2018
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Cruise ship access raises concerns in Bar Harbor

By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff

BAR HARBOR, Maine — Because of federal regulations that went into effect in 2002, it has been nearly eight years since cruise ship tenders dropped off and picked up passengers at the local municipal pier that overlooks the harbor.

Since the end of 2001, all such tenders have docked at Harbor Place, an adjacent pier owned and operated by Ocean Properties. Earlier this month, the Coast Guard approved Bar Harbor’s new security plan for the town pier, prompting town officials to consider how they might control the complex flow of cruise ship passengers, fishermen, tour buses and the public at the municipal property. One plan calls for accepting cruise ship tenders at the municipal pier.

There are some concerns about the town offering an alternative tender docking site to Harbor Place, however. The move could be seen as government interference in private business, some have suggested.

Attempts on Monday and Tuesday to contact Eben Salvatore, Ocean Properties’ director of operations for Bar Harbor, for comment were unsuccessful.

Chris Fogg, executive director of the local Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber has not taken a position on the issue because the town has not yet made a decision about how intensively it will pursue having tenders dock at the town pier.

“We’re taking kind of a wait-and-see attitude,” Fogg said Monday. “There are some concerns about having government involved in private business. I don’t think that is their role, but I don’t know that is their intention.”

Fogg added that it makes sense to have more than one access point on the waterfront that cruise ship tenders can use.

“Having a backup plan is a great idea,” he said.

The town’s cruise ship task force will consider plans for accepting cruise ship tenders at the municipal pier when it meets at the town office on Cottage Street at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, July 9.

Nathan Young, Bar Harbor’s police chief, said Monday he doesn’t believe it is the town’s intent to compete with Ocean Properties, which receives a per-passenger landing fee from each cruise ship company that discharges passengers at Harbor Place. This fee is in addition to the anchorage fees the cruise lines pay the town for stopping in Frenchman Bay.

Young said that because he is the designated head security officer for town property, cruise companies have contacted him to ask if they can land tenders at the municipal pier. The town has applied for and received Coast Guard approval for having tenders dock at the town facility, he said, so he is obliged to tell them they can.

“[The cruise ship companies] are looking at ways to cut costs,” he said.

But the decision is not Young’s alone, as the police chief readily admits. The town’s cruise ship task force and Bar Harbor’s elected council have approved the system by which the town controls the flow of cruise ship passengers and tour buses as they converge on West Street in front of Harbor Place. If tenders are to dock at the municipal pier, Young said, the same town panels would have to approve whatever system is put in place to control pedestrian and vehicular access to the public pier, which also is used by the general public and by fishermen.

“The fishermen will be able to come and go as they please, as will most everybody else,” the police chief said.

Young said it is appropriate for the town to consider letting cruise ship passengers disembark on town property. Public safety is the town’s concern, he said, and because the cruise ship industry affects the entire town, it makes sense to have tender docking options instead of just relying on one property owner to funnel cruise ship passengers into Bar Harbor.

“That industry affects the town of Bar Harbor as a whole,” he said.

Amy Powers, director of marketing group CruiseMaineUSA, said Tuesday that the number of cruise ship visits scheduled for Bar Harbor for 2010 is expected to be higher than the 96 expected for this summer and fall. She said she has not heard any concerns about the capacity of Harbor Place, but added that it makes sense for town officials to plan for future scenarios and to consider how many cruise ship visits Bar Harbor can comfortably handle.

The issue of implementing a security plan and traffic pattern for the town pier is not just about cruise ship visits, Powers said. International cruising yachts, whether they are carrying private citizens or charter passengers, are subject to the same security measures as cruise ships with international itineraries, she said.

“It’s completely up to the town to do that,” Powers said of coming up with a security and traffic plan for the municipal pier. “Whatever they want to do is their decision.”

According to Young, Bar Harbor has applied for another round of port security grant funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Of the $1.3 million the town has requested, $500,000 would go toward improvements at the town pier, such as heavier floats on its eastern side.

The east side of the town pier is more exposed to open water, Young said, and so can be trickier to use in rough weather. Harbor Place, where Ocean Properties also docks its whale watch fleet and which is in close proximity to the public fishermen’s float on the town pier’s west side, can get congested on busy summer days, he said.

“There are pluses and minuses to both locations,” Young said.

Young said that before 2002, cruise ship tenders docked at the town pier, at Harbor Place, and at the Harborside Hotel, which also is owned by Ocean Properties. Because of the flow of tour buses and cruise ship passenger foot traffic, it may be difficult to have cruise ship tenders land at more than one pier on the same day, he said, but using one pier on one day doesn’t preclude the use of a different pier on another day.

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