BAR HARBOR, Maine – Residents questioned whether cruise-ship industry concerns over-influence the town council after its chairman signaled opposition Tuesday to buying a former ferry terminal for $3.5 million and turning it into multi-use marine facility.
The Ferry Terminal Property Advisory Committee recommended relieving town and harbor traffic by opening the terminal to recreational boating, commercial fishermen and cruise-ship tenders. Cruise-ship visitation, and the congestion it causes, has been Mount Desert Island’s biggest issue, with other towns enacting ship visitation bans.
But Chairman Paul Paradis surprised councilors when he said that the council voted 7-0 on Nov. 21 merely to accept the committee’s report, “not adopted or accepted the recommendation.”
“We have not made any decisions on which way to proceed because we don’t have all the information to make a decision,” Paradis is quoted as saying to the Mount Desert Islander in a story that went live on its website on Tuesday.
He reaffirmed the quote’s accuracy during the meeting.
Subcommittee member Joe Minutolo and council Vice Chairman Gary Friedmann questioned Paradis’ version of events, as did two speakers from the audience.
Audience members and councilors seemed confused by Paradis’ statements.
Friedmann said he at least intended to pursue all committee’s recommendations with the motion he made during the Nov. 21 meeting. Other councilors declined to comment on whether they intended to pursue all the recommendations.
“I don’t really understand where he is coming from on this,” Friedmann said of Paradis after the meeting adjourned. “I think that the motion was very clear.”
The minutes from the Nov. 21 meeting state that the council unanimously voted to “accept the [committee’s] report, thank the committee members for their work in a short period of time and forward the report to” a consultant for review.
Minutolo said that he and other members of the 40-member committee were concerned that the council would “back off” from the committee’s recommendation in favor of turning the ferry terminal into a cruise-ship dock under the influence of Paradis.
A council member for nine years, Paradis is a long-time advocate of Bar Harbor’s being a cruise-ship destination.
“He has probably put in the most time [out of any councilor] on this issue,” Minutolo said.
Making the terminal a cruise-ship dock would likely eliminate its being used for anything else. It would be a huge commitment to the cruise-ship industry at the expense of many residents’ desire to have the terminal serve their needs, Minutolo said.
Paradis’ only response was that the council agreed to the minutes of the meeting. He declined to comment further and could not be reached on Wednesday.
Minutolo said he wondered whether Paradis was trying to force his will on councilors or merely reminding them to keep their options open.
“He really seems to push this issue. This whole thing seems to rear its head repeatedly. We seem to always be pushed back toward the cruise-ship industry,” Minutolo said. “We have to look at the rest of our community once in awhile.”
Councilor Matthew Hochman said he is disappointed that some residents might assume that the council would be biased or just ignore the committee’s recommendations.
“We just went through a pretty exhaustive process with a large group of residents,” Hochman said of the committee and its work.
A consultant hired by the town to help develop a plan for the terminal will determine whether to implement the committee’s goals, so the goals aren’t being ignored, he said.
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