After more than half of the respondents to a survey in Bar Harbor said the cruise ship industry is hurting the town, local officials on Tuesday said they will pursue more restrictions on the amount of cruise ship traffic the popular tourist town gets each year.
What those limits will be has not been determined, but the council plans to hold a workshop to develop specific limits on the numbers of ships and passengers the town can have in a year, the ships’ size, the days of the week they can visit and where they can anchor offshore.
The council plans to hold the workshop at 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 2, with the goal of being able to have specific proposed limits that voters can consider in November, according to Cornell Knight, Bar Harbor’s town manager.
“I think this gives us our marching orders,” Councilor Matthew Hochman said, referring to the survey. The survey, which garnered 1,400 responses, was open to local residents, both seasonal and year-round, and local business owners.
In 2019, Bar Harbor had roughly 170 cruise ship visits, and 270,000 cruise ship passengers funneled through the downtown waterfront. That is nearly an 800 percent increase since 1990, when the town had only 22 cruise ship visits. No cruise ships visited last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic ground the industry to a halt, and only 10 visits — all by the 100-passenger American vessel Independence — are scheduled for this year.
At their meeting Tuesday, councilors discussed whether they could just decide what the respective limits should be and then enact them, with some suggesting that the town’s cruise ship committee should weigh in. The town already has daily cruise ship passenger limits of 3,500 in July and August, when tourist season is at its peak, and 5,500 in May, June, September and October, Knight said. The town has no yearly limits for ships or passengers.
Ultimately, voters should approve the lower limits, Councilor Joe Minutolo said. Over the years, as cruise ship visits to the town have steadily increased, voters have had little to no say in what limits are appropriate and the logistics of handling the visits, he said.
“People on this issue feel disenfranchised,” Minutolo said. “We’ve got to do something so they don’t feel that way.”
Hochman proposed a moratorium on new cruise ship bookings while the town decides what additional limits it should impose, but the council stopped short of backing that measure. Town staff and cruise ship committee members noted that the cruise industry has had a cooperative relationship with the town, and that the cruise lines will be flexible and will live with whatever limits the town puts in place.
Instead, the council told town staff to tell cruise lines that any booking dates made going forward will be only tentative and could be subject to the new limits. Any new limits approved by voters would apply to 2022, for which 174 cruise ship visits have already been scheduled.