December 10, 2018
Hancock Latest News | Paul LePage | 129th Legislature | Impeachment | UMaine Black Bears

A new cruise ship controversy stirs Bar Harbor

Some Bar Harbor residents are fighting a possible town cruise ship dock by opposing a bill introduced by the town’s state legislators.

Joe Minutolo, a bike shop owner and member of the town’s Ferry Terminal Property Advisory Committee, urged the Legislature to reject LD 1400, which would create a Bar Harbor Port Authority.

Minutolo said he believes the bill is part of a backdoor effort to create a cruise ship pier at the former ferry terminal off Route 3 that the town intends to buy for $3.5 million and turn into a multi-use marine facility.

“For this plan, a port authority is not needed, or wanted. The idea of a cruise ship pier is totally the wrong direction for our town that is being forced on this small community,” Minutolo wrote in a letter to legislators. “This is a big industry with tremendous power, and they have done a great job of suppressing” the multi-use facility plan.

Town Manager Cornell Knight said the bill merely enables the town to create a port authority if residents chose to do so.

“The action of the Legislature does not make a port authority, it is just enabling legislation,” Knight said in an email. “The town council can’t make a [port authority]. It would be done in a town-wide vote, so if a port authority were established, a majority of Bar Harbor citizens would want it.”

Cruise ship visitation, and the congestion it causes, has been Mount Desert Island’s biggest issue, with other towns enacting ship visitation bans. Bar Harbor was visited by 166 cruise ships in 2017 and expects 180 ship visits this year once the season starts on April 20.

Minutolo’s letter comes as town officials are mulling a settlement offer from a group of residents who sued the town in July because they feared that a cruise ship pier would denigrate the town’s quality of life.

Attorney William Dale of Portland said the plaintiffs, who sued claiming the terminal zone change was spot zoning, would dismiss their lawsuit if councilors would agree to not to pursue a cruise-ship pier.

As of Thursday, town officials had not responded to the offer, Dale said.

Bar Harbor Town Council Chairman Paul Paradis perhaps inadvertently added to the perception of bias in favor of a cruise ship pier last month when he said the council had merely accepted the committee’s report favoring a multi-use facility. A majority of councilors subsequently said they would pursue the committee’s recommendation.

An early advocate of luring cruise ships to Bar Harbor, Paradis has never said why he opted to be so particular about the committee’s report. Minutolo has questioned whether Paradis was unduly influenced by industry concerns but conceded that Paradis might have just been reminding councilors to keep their options open.

Minutolo said he thinks that LD 1400, which was proposed by Sen. Brian Langley of Ellsworth and three other Hancock County legislators, “is real premature.”

“Our representatives have not taken into consideration what the outcome was from the advisory committee and I think that’s kind of sad,” Minutolo said.

The committee, Minutolo said, spent several months reviewing town options for the ferry terminal with residents and experts before determining that a multi-use option was the preferred option.

“Our worry is that it is one more hook to keep the cruise ship pier argument going, and I don’t think that Bar Harbor has the appetite for that. We want to go in another direction,” Minutolo added.

A port authority, Knight said, could help the town defray the costs of implementing the multi-use plan.

Langley did not return several telephone and email messages this week.

The Legislature’s Transportation Committee continues to work the bill, which was carried over from the previous session.

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