Fearing traffic jams and damage to fishing gear like they see in neighboring Bar Harbor, two more Mount Desert Island towns are talking about banning cruise ships.
Southwest Harbor will hold a special town meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday to consider banning cruise ships from their harbor for six months. Tremont’s Board of Selectmen voted 4 to 0 on Aug. 7 to discuss a similar ban for Bass Harbor but have not set a meeting date. Councilor McKenzie Jewett was absent.
Northeast Harbor decided last November not to allow cruise ships this summer.
Southwest Harbor and Tremont like the idea of tapping into more of the money tourists provide. According to MaineBiz, passengers spent $15 million in neighboring Bar Harbor in 2016, and 410 ships are expected to drop anchor in Maine this year, up from 361 in 2016 and 271 a decade ago. The cruise-ship industry generated $47 million and 755 jobs in Maine in 2014, according to an industry study.
But the island towns don’t want their already burdened roads to get more clogged. They fear that the expected increase in tourist traffic in Bar Harbor, Maine’s busiest port with 105 cruise-ship visits in 2016 and 163 ship booked this year, will spill over into Southwest and Bass harbors as the ships seek less-crowded places to anchor.
The large tenders that run passengers between ship and shore can damage lobster traps and other fishing gear, said Kevin Buck, chairman of Tremont’s Board of Selectmen.
“We already have parking issues and worries about room for everybody,” Tremont Harbor Master Justin Seavey said. “Most fisherman are against it.”
Southwest Harbor officials became concerned when they learned that a cruise ship, the Pearl Mist, had plans to run passengers in September from tenders to Beal’s Lobster Pier on Clark Point Road and then on buses to Acadia National Park, said Lydia Goetze, chairwoman of the Southwest Harbor Board of Selectmen.
Goetze estimated that this would put about 200 people on long tour buses, too much of a burden for a small fishing town whose one main road is already overrun with tourist traffic, she said.
“There are two main concerns,” Goetze said. “Vessels of this size destroy a great deal of fishing gear. And the facilities in our town are not really equipped to deal with an influx of 200 people. So it’s not entirely clear to what the benefit to the town is, if anything.
“The area where they were planning to disembark is short on parking, so it is not clear how this would work,” she added.
The proposed Southwest Harbor moratorium would ban for six months the use of any facility in town, including docks and piers, to transfer more than 50 passengers per ship.
Tremont officials, meanwhile, are following Southwest Harbor’s lead, Buck said.
“When we heard that Southwest was having a meeting [to consider a moratorium], some people in Tremont decided it was time to do something before it was a problem,” Buck said.
A temporary ban would give Southwest Harbor officials time to poll residents and determine how to handle cruise ships, if they’re wanted at all, Goetze said.
“We have a very different layout and situation from the town of Bar Harbor,” Goetze said.
Bar Harbor, which normally has about 5,000 people, limits incoming passengers to 3,500 per day in July and August and 5,500 at other times, to “balance how many people the town can handle,” Town Manager Cornell Knight told MaineBiz. “Congestion is an issue.”
Southwest Harbor has a population of 1,764, according to the last census. Located off Bass Harbor, Tremont has 1,563 people.