March 29, 2020
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Maine city considers referendum after residents ask for ban on large cruise ships

Stephen Betts | File
Stephen Betts | File
File photo of the 590-foot-long MS Regatta cruise ship in Rockland Harbor in 2013, which carried 650 passengers.

In response to residents calling for a moratorium on large cruise ships coming into Rockland Harbor, the Rockland City Council is considering placing an advisory referendum on the November ballot.

The referendum would seek to gauge Rockland residents’ feelings about large cruise ships, and how they believe the ships should be regulated, if at all. Councilor Ed Glaser suggested the referendum at Monday’s city council meeting.

At the meeting, city councilors received a petition signed by about 100 Rockland residents that asked the city to place a moratorium on allowing cruise ships with more than 250 passengers from coming into port.

The petition, which was circulated online, also had hundreds of signatures from non-Rockland residents, including out-of-state residents.

Those in support of a moratorium said it would give the city time to look at how the local population and economy is affected by large cruise ships and come up with reasonable regulations.

“A cruise ship can be great fun, but a cruise ship can be deadly to a small town or city,” said Joan Wright, who presented the petition.

Rockland does not have the authority to ban cruise ships from anchoring in its harbor, according to harbormaster Matt Ripley. However, the city can control the use of the public landing, which is currently the only facility that can accommodate passengers being tendered in from cruise ships.

The call for a moratorium is the latest turn in an ongoing debate over whether Rockland wants to present itself as a cruise ship destination. At numerous meetings during the past year, residents have pointed to Bar Harbor as an example of how large cruise ships can negatively affect the quality of life for some residents.

However, some business owners and the local chamber of commerce have argued that these large cruise ships, with upwards of 2,000 passengers, provide a boost to Rockland’s seasonal economy.

On Monday night, those in favor of the moratorium asked that when looking at economic impacts, city leaders look further than “the number of T-shirts, lobster rolls [and] ice cream cones” sold to “the hordes of passengers that inundate Main Street,” one Rockland resident said.

The logistics of a moratorium perplexed city councilors, given that to enact a moratorium on large cruise ships, they would need to prove the moratorium would prevent public harm. Large cruise ships have also already made reservations to anchor and tender into Rockland for the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

The city is also in the midst of trying to quantify the impacts of large cruise ships, as well as working on a long-term harbor development plan.

Earlier this year, the city council tasked the Harbor Management Commission and the Rockland Economic Development Advisory Committee with providing input and recommendations related to large cruise ships.

In April, the U.S. Coast Guard decided it would not pursue a request to establish a new federal anchorage in Rockland Harbor that would have been primarily used for large cruise ships.

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