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Bar Harbor residents launch citizens petition to limit cruise ship passengers

In this June 4, 2010, file photo, the Maasdam, a 1,258-passenger cruise ship, sits at anchor in Frenchman's Bay off Bar Harbor, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
AP file
In this June 4, 2010, file photo, the Maasdam, a 1,258-passenger cruise ship, sits at anchor in Frenchman's Bay off Bar Harbor, Maine.

A group of Bar Harbor residents is hopeful it can limit the number of cruise ship passengers who enter the town through a new citizens petition.

The group submitted its proposal to the town clerk earlier this week.

Organizer Charlie Sidman said the group worked with attorneys to craft changes to the town's land use ordinance, which would limit the number of cruise ship passengers entering town to 1,000 people a day.

"We didn't take the approach of saying anything about the ships themselves, but what we clearly have authority to regulate is what happens on our ground," Sidman said.

The proposal also creates a new process for issuing permits to town property owners to accept passengers. Under the proposed language, the harbor master would have to establish a reservation system for cruise ships that transport passengers to town and a mechanism for counting and tracking people who disembark.

It would be up to the town's code enforcement officer to oversee compliance with the new policy — and handle any violations. Property owners who fail to abide by the new restrictions would have to pay a $100 fine for each "unauthorized" passenger, according to the proposal.

The proposal would apply to any cruise ship visits that the town approves after March 17, 2022. That means that while voters may not approve of the changes for several more months, the prospective passenger limits would apply retroactively to ships that schedule visits with Bar Harbor.

The Bar Harbor Town Council has been debating limits on cruise ships for months, but Sidman said it hasn't done enough to address residents' concerns.

"I and many others basically gave up hope on the town council being able to move the needle significantly," he said. "They're still talking about little Band-Aids instead of dealing with the actual problem, and so this is an alternative group."

The group says cruise ship passengers overwhelm the streets and public areas and strain the town's ability to provide municipal services. And they point to a 2021 survey, which found more than half of residents had a negative perception of cruise ships.

Sidman said the group needs to collect about 300 signatures from citizens to put the petition on the ballot. He's confident they'll collect enough in time for voters to weigh in this November.

Town clerk Liz Graves said she has received the proposed language and is preparing forms that the citizens group can use to collect signatures. Town manager Kevin Sutherland didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

The Bar Harbor Town Council recently chose not to impose new limits for the upcoming summer season and instead is forming a group to negotiate future changes with the cruise ship industry.

The Mount Desert Islander first reported news of the citizen petition.