Gov. Paul LePage has vetoed a bill that would allow Bar Harbor voters to create a port authority, calling the measure unnecessary.
The purpose of LD 1400, An Act To Create the Bar Harbor Port Authority, “is to deflect accountability from the town,” LePage wrote in a veto letter to the Legislature released Wednesday.
The bill is among the town’s more controversial efforts to solve its traffic problems. Some residents said it was part of a backdoor effort to create a cruise ship pier at a former ferry terminal off Route 3 that the town intends to buy. Bar Harbor Town Council members deny that claim, saying that the authority would help draw grant money to Bar Harbor.
Bar Harbor was visited by 166 cruise ships in 2017 and expects 180 ship visits this year once the season starts on April 20.
Plenty of towns in Maine welcome cruise ships and don’t create authorities, LePage said.
“Bar Harbor is aware that they cannot legally prohibit cruise ships from visiting,” LePage wrote, noting that town voters defeated a moratorium attempt last year.
Municipalities “can maintain and expand the necessary infrastructure to land any cruise ship just as, if not more, effectively than a local port authority,” he wrote.
Bar Harbor Town Councilor Matthew Hochman and Town Manager Cornell Knight bemoaned LePage’s veto.
“I’m disappointed that Gov. LePage has decided to not side with the legislature who supported LD-1400 by a large margin, and has taken the decision out of the hands of the voters,” he said.
Renata Moise, a spokesperson of cruise-ship pier opponent Friends of Frenchman Bay, said LePage’s decision was “absolutely correct.”
“This is a chance for legislators in Augusta to listen to and respect the original recommendations of a Bar Harbor citizens advisory committee to create a smaller, locally operated, multi-use marina in Bar Harbor — and not a massive cruise ship pier that would dominate Frenchman Bay,” she added.
“The governor says we should utilize state agencies; we tried to do that,” Knight said. “There would be accountability since three directors would be elected from town and two appointed by the town council. It doesn’t deflect accountability — it just gives the town the option to consider a different operation if the citizens so choose to, especially if the debt load is too much.”
The vetoed bill now returns to the Legislature. If two-thirds of both the House and the Senate vote to override the veto, the bill would take effect over the governor’s opposition 90 days after this legislative session adjourns.
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