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Bar Harbor considers two competing options for limiting cruise ships

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.

After years of debate, the town of Bar Harbor is considering competing proposals for limiting cruise ship traffic.

One option is a citizens petition on the November ballot that would cap the number of cruise ship passengers entering town to 1,000 each day.

After a closed-door discussions over the legality of the proposal, Bar Harbor councilors decided on Tuesday night to place the petition on the town warrant.

The second option — born from negotiations between the town and cruise ship industry — would limit the number of daily cruise ship passengers to 3,800 people, with the exception of July and August, when daily caps of 3,500 people would be in effect.

"I do believe this is a meaningful reduction and one that we actually have support from the industry, who is one of the biggest players in making these decisions," said Bar Harbor Town Manager Kevin Sutherland, who presented the proposal to the town council on Tuesday night.

The plan would also set monthly caps on cruise ship passengers — 30,000 each during May and June, 40,000 people each during July and August, and 65,000 each in September and October. The combination of setting both daily and monthly caps would create days where no ships come to the town at all, Sutherland said.

Town of Bar Harbor
Cruise Ship Management Plan
This chart, which was presented to the Bar Harbor town council during an Aug. 2, 2022 meeting, compares the number of monthly passengers booked on cruise ships for 2022 to the number proposed under the town's cruise ship management plan for future seasons.

The proposal would also limit the number of ships in town to three each day, with a few exceptions. No cruise ships would be allowed in April or November, shortening the season.

"Our community has expressed its opinion on the situation in no uncertain terms," said councilor Jill Goldthwait, who sat on the working group that negotiated the new plan with the cruise ship industry. "Our struggle was to get through to something on our side that would pass a straight-faced test in the community."

She's hopeful Bar Harbor residents will accept this plan.

"Whether we can persuade our community that it's far enough, I don't know," Goldthwait added. "The benefits and flaws of both approaches, the petition and [our proposal], are going to emerge over the next couple of months. But I think this at least passes the straight-faced test."

Sutherland said he'll ask for the council's support, so the town can sign formal agreements with the cruise lines in time to finish booking out the 2023 season.

The town council will collect public feedback on the proposal and will decide on the next steps later this month.