June 19, 2018
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Cost, benefits weighed in Obama visit

By Rich Hewitt, BDN Staff

BAR HARBOR, Maine — The visit by President Barack Obama and his family to Mount Desert Island last weekend has had economic impacts on the region, both positive and negative, according to local officials and business people.

The presence of the first family brought national and international attention to the region, boosted the numbers of people in Bar Harbor over the weekend and will likely draw future visitors to the island, according to officials.

On the other hand, some businesses took a hit from the security measures put in place during the presidential visit.

However, the “best deal” rates at the Bar Harbor Regency, where the Obamas and many members of their retinue stayed, would run between $39,800 and $53,800 — the cost for the 100 rooms they rented for two nights. Those estimates do not include additional rooms rented by the White House or Secret Service staff at other local hotels.

According to the White House, the president paid for his family’s vacation, as he has done in the past.

“Staffing and security are handled for this President as they have been for every President whether they stay in a hotel, rent lodging or whether they go to a place they own like a farm, ranch or estate,” the White House said.

In a 2008 survey of vacation costs, AAA recommended allowing $80 per day for meals for two adults traveling and dining together, which would add up to $8,000 for the weekend for 100 people, not counting beverages and tips.

The round-trip fuel costs for each of the SUV-type vehicles used in the motorcade that ferried the first family around the island would be about $206, according to the AAA Fuel Cost Calculator.

The Chicago Tribune reported in 2009 that a round-trip flight on Air Force One to the city costs an estimated $236,000. That was on board the large 747 jet. The president’s party flew to Maine in two smaller G3 Gulfstream jets and an Air Force transport, so the costs would be different, but comparable.

There also were local costs for the president’s visit.

Flights were restricted at the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport in Trenton, where the presidential party landed on Friday.

“We were shut down to recreational and general aviation from mid-morning on Friday to mid-morning on Sunday,” Airport Manager Allison Navia said Tuesday.

In addition to being closed to recreational flights, rental car agencies and scenic flight operations could not operate. Navia estimated that operators at the airport lost sales of at least 25,000 gallons of fuel during the weekend, a loss of more than $112,000.

Steve Collins, owner of Acadia Air Tours, offers scenic flights around the Bar Harbor area in a biplane and a glider, but because of the restrictions at the airport was not able to operate during the weekend.

“It was a sunny, bright weekend, so we’re looking at maybe 25 trips a day, Friday through Sunday,” he said. “My average through the month of July has been $4,000 a day. That is a $12,000 hit.”

Collins said the costs seemed to be out of line with the benefits.

“It seems like a lot of money for nothing,” he said.

The costs will add up for local communities that provided uniformed law enforcement officers to work with the Bar Harbor Police Department and the Secret Service during the president’s stay.

“The bill to the taxpayers is going to be large,” said Ellsworth Police Chief John DeLeo. “This is not like New York City, where they have thousands of officers and they can just move them around. Almost everybody down there was collecting overtime.”

State and county agencies, along with the other island police departments, provided officers for details that provided security at roadblocks and around the Regency hotel and also did advance work for the Secret Service at sites around the island.

DeLeo said the cost to the city will be about $4,850.

Hancock County Sheriff William Clark pointed out that there is currently no mechanism for the federal government to reimburse any of the departments that incurred costs during the weekend.

“The agents said that they wished they could pay us back,” Clark said. “But they said it would take an act of Congress to pay us.”

In Bar Harbor, Chief Nate Young said that while he hadn’t calculated the total dollar figure, he estimated that his officers put in about 280 hours of overtime during the president’s visit.

“And there wasn’t one of them that felt that they didn’t want to be here, even with the long hours,” Young said.

Despite the costs and the minor disruptions while President Obama and his family were in town, Bar Harbor Town Manager Dana Reed predicted that in the long run, the visit would turn out to be a benefit for the town.

“Some people probably lost business because of the detours, but others gained. In the long run, I think everybody is going to gain,” Reed said Monday. “To focus on the short term, I think, is shortsighted.”

Bar Harbor businesses seemed to fare well during the weekend visit by the Obamas, according to Chris Fogg, executive director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, although he agreed that some may have sustained some initial losses.

On the plus side, he said, the publicity was great.

“There were 1,750 news stories over the weekend written about Obama’s visit to Bar Harbor,” he said. “That showcased us as a destination to the U.S. and the world. That’s going to pay bigger dividends down the road.”

The kind of exposure the president brought to Maine is priceless, according to Pat Eltman, director of the Maine Office of Tourism.

“Maine has been on the national news for a good week in anticipation of the president’s visit and then during his visit,” Eltman said Monday. “That puts the focus on Maine, on Maine beaches, Maine restaurants, Maine innkeepers. If we had to pay for that publicity — on our budget we couldn’t afford the kind of coverage we’ve been getting in the last week. It’s invaluable. It’s like the commercial: It’s priceless.”

The economic impact from increased tourism is likely to be long-term, she said. This kind of publicity for the state is the kind that carries over from year to year.

Perhaps the most gratifying impact, according to Fogg at the Bar Harbor Chamber, is that the president and his family seemed to enjoy themselves.

“I talked to one business owner where the Obamas went, and he said [the president] seemed to have a good time here,” Fogg said. “He really enjoyed himself and he seemed very relaxed. I think we really rose to the occasion.”

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