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Bar Harbor shut its doors to all cruise ships for the rest of the year on Tuesday night, after councilors heard a cruise line’s plans to restart small cruises this summer and fall.
The town, which normally gets more than 100 cruise ship visits annually between late April and early November, has had no cruise ship visits this year after the vessels became early hot spots for coronavirus transmission. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has barred cruise ships carrying 250 or more passengers from operating in U.S. waters through July 24, and a trade group representing cruise lines has decided that its members won’t resume cruises of that size until at least Sept. 15.
But Paul Taiclet, a vice president of American Cruise Lines, told Bar Harbor councilors on Tuesday that its cruises weren’t subject to the CDC’s no-sail order or the trade group’s suspension because the firm operates ships that carry fewer than 250 passengers.
Taiclet was seeking the town’s support for the firm’s plan to resume bringing passengers to Bar Harbor this summer under added precautions to prevent the coronavirus’ spread. The cruise line would then present a letter of support to state health officials and Gov. Janet Mills while the state considers whether to allow the company to resume cruises in Maine. American Cruise Lines also is hoping to get letters of support from town officials in Camden and Rockland, Taiclet said.
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The cruise line’s ship American Constitution, which normally carries 170 passengers and 25 crew, would limit its passenger capacity to 60 for each of the seven visits it would make to Bar Harbor this summer and fall, and would have fewer crew members, too, Taiclet said. The company would conduct routine medical screening of passengers and crew, including when they leave or board the ship, and would mandate social distancing on the ship.
Only 25 passengers would be allowed to leave the ship at a time to allow for social distancing on bus tours through Acadia National Park, and they would have to comply with state and local requirements to wear masks and keep their distance from others while on shore, Taiclet said.
States where the company draws customers include Arizona, Texas, California, and Florida, as well as several in the Northeast, he said. Arizona, Texas, California and Florida have recently experienced sharp upticks in coronavirus cases.
“We understand the sensitivity of bringing outsiders to the state of Maine,” Taiclet told the council. “We feel we can do it safely.”
But Councilor Stephen Coston was the only councilor to support the company’s request. While several councilors said they are grateful American Cruise Lines has brought passengers to Bar Harbor for several years, and that they hope their ships and customers will return in 2021, they do not think any cruise ships should come to Bar Harbor this year.
Councilor Jill Goldthwait said she had received many emails from people interested in whether the town would allow the cruise line to bring passengers to Bar Harbor this summer, and almost all were opposed to the idea. The only email she received in support of it was from the local chamber of commerce.
“Nothing is normal. Everything is stressful,” Goldthwait said, adding that many retailers have struggled to get customers to wear face masks in their stores. “It might be bad to add another level of stress to what is a high level of stress already.”
Councilor Erin Cough said that if the town allowed small cruise ship visits to resume, it could create a perception that Bar Harbor is not doing enough to fight the spread of the disease, which in turn could keep other potential visitors away from the town.
“They’re just too afraid,” Cough said of local residents. “You just can’t add another threat to this already worn-out community.”
Councilor Matt Hochman echoed that concern, saying that the 420 total passengers the company would bring to Bar Harbor over the course of the summer is a relatively small number.
“I don’t think the risk is worth the reward,” Hochman said. “I don’t think 2020 is the year for it.”
After a motion made by Coston to support the company’s COVID-19 operations plans failed due to a lack of a second, the council voted 6-1 (with Coston opposed) to bar all cruise ships — not just those operated by American Cruise Lines — from stopping in Bar Harbor for the remainder of 2020.
The council also discussed whether to pass a local emergency ordinance that would require everyone to wear face masks in public, but decided to table the matter until July 21. Mills has said she will order many businesses in coastal counties and larger cities to require their customers wear face coverings, and councilors said they want to see the order before deciding whether to pass a local ordinance.