SOUTHWEST HARBOR, Maine — Residents here voted to ban cruise ships until the town can determine how best to deal with the traffic that they bring.
Residents voted 119-0 during a special town meeting on Tuesday to ban vessels carrying more than 50 people from disembarking on town shores for 180 days. Aimed at cruise ships, the moratorium follows a 4-0 Board of Selectmen vote last month preventing those vessels from anchoring in the harbor, Town Manager Don Lagrange said Wednesday.
Town leaders will use the six months to see whether residents want cruise-ship traffic and how to address it, said Lydia Goetze, the Board of Selectmen’s chairwoman.
Southwest Harbor is the third Mount Desert Island town to consider such a ban. Northeast Harbor enacted a moratorium in November covering this summer. Tremont leaders may take a similar path to address problems created by cruise ships, which helped make tourism the biggest industry in Maine, with $5 billion in revenues in 2015.
Resident Carolyn Ball, who voted in favor of the ban, said the town needs to consider how much traffic it can handle.
“Traffic is quite heavy in the summer,” Ball said after the vote. “How would buses that pick up passengers come through town? Would they like to use our restaurants, and do we have large-enough restaurants for them to use? Would they drop them off in town or would they not drop them off in town?”
“Those are the kinds of things we need to consider,” Ball added.
The moratorium came in response to news that a cruise ship company was considering running passengers by bus from the harbor to Acadia National Park later this year.
Town officials have the option of extending the moratorium for another 180 days and will likely need to, Goetze said. The Planning Board and Harbor Committee will likely take up the issues when they get the referral from selectmen.
They might have to involve other Bar Harbor towns in their efforts to solve the problems created by cruise-ship traffic, Goetze said.