The Maine House of Representatives on Tuesday sustained Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that would have given Bar Harbor voters permission to form a port authority.
The House’s 81-63 vote on Tuesday in support of LD 1400 lacked the two-thirds majority needed to override LePage’s veto. As they have consistently done during the 128th Legislature, House Republicans stood by the Republican governor.
The bill was an aspect of Bar Harbor’s ongoing contentiousness over cruise ship traffic and its impact on the Mount Desert Island town’s sea- and road-going tourist traffic, likely the island’s biggest single issue.
The Town Council — and local businesses, generally — favored having the option to create a port authority as a tool that councilors said could help better manage burgeoning town tourism.
But some residents voiced suspicion that a port authority was part of a backdoor attempt to create a cruise ship terminal rather than a multi-use marina at a Route 3 property town officials intend to buy this summer.
Pamela McCullough, a spokesperson of the Friends of Frenchman Bay, reiterated that claim on Tuesday.
“Now, hopefully, we can get back to the plan to build a much a smaller, multi-use marina,” she said in a statement. “We don’t want to be Miami. We are small town coastal Maine, and whatever we build here needs to be in line with our communities and with the natural beauty that is our home.”
Councilors have denied any backdoor motive. They accused opponents of LD 1400 of orchestrating a campaign to undermine the democratic process with false claims that would effectively take the decision on whether to create a port authority out of the hands of residents.
Residents will decide whether to back the $3.5 million purchase when they vote on a bond of the purchase in June and would have had the final say with a vote on whether to create a port authority.
The Senate voted 25-8 to override the veto, but both chambers must vote with a two-thirds majority to override a veto and allow a bill to take effect.
LePage has said he vetoed LD 1400 because he felt its purpose “is to deflect accountability from the town.” 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.
Bar Harbor was visited by 166 cruise ships in 2017 and expects a record 180 ship visits this year once the season starts on April 20.
The Hancock County representatives voting on the bill largely followed party lines, with Democrats voting to override the veto and Republicans voting no.
The yes votes included Democrats Brian L. Hubbell of Bar Harbor, Louis Luchini of Ellsworth, Walter A. Kumiega III of Deer Isle, and Republican Karl Ward of Dedham.
The no votes included Republicans Richard S. Malaby of Hancock, Richard Campbell of Orrington and Lawrence E. Lockman of Amherst.
Green Party Rep. Ralph Chapman of Brooksville also voted no.
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