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Cruise ship reductions coming to Bar Harbor, but the debate isn't over yet

In this June 4, 2010 photo, passengers from the Maasdam, a 719-foot cruise ship, board a shuttle boat for a day trip to Bar Harbor, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
In this June 4, 2010 photo, passengers from the Maasdam, a 719-foot cruise ship, board a shuttle boat for a day trip to Bar Harbor, Maine.

Bar Harbor will limit the number of cruise ships and passengers under a new agreement reached with the industry, but the years-long debate over congestion in the downtown isn't over.

The Bar Harbor town council took a series of 5-2 votes Tuesday night, first in favor of the plan itself, and then authorizing the town manager to draft formal agreements with the cruise lines.

The plan, born from months of negotiations between the town and cruise 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.

It will also set monthly caps on cruise ship passengers — 30,000 each during May and June, 40,000 each during July and August, and 65,000 each in September and October.

The councilors acknowledged the plan isn't perfect, and many said they wanted to see further reductions. But councilor Erin Cough said the plan is a good start, and it may be the best option on the table.

"I'm not super psyched with the numbers," she said. "I'd love to see this work, because anything else is just going to create more division, more hate and divert our energy from a much bigger environmental and bigger town crisis, from capacity."

The new plan will 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.

Members of the public submitted 53 pages of comments and questions about the cruise plan to the town during the last two weeks. Many were from local business owners, who urged the town against shortening the cruise ship season.

Bar Harbor residents will have a chance to vote in November on another option, a citizens petition that would cap the number of cruise ship passengers entering town to 1,000 each day.

"To some extent with the citizens initiative and what we want to do, we're talking about dancing. And this has us crawling, but we got to start with crawling," said council vice chairman Matthew Hochman. "This does not preclude further reductions in the future, but we're not going to know if this helps. Maybe in a perfect world we implement these numbers and realize OK, it's not that bad out there anymore; this actually helped. But we're never going to know that if we just say it doesn't do enough; let's not do it."

Several councilors have said they believe the citizens petition, if approved, will bring lawsuits against the town.

The city of Portland is now considering its own restrictions on daily cruise ship visits.