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Bar Harbor cruise ship case expected to go to trial in July

Two large cruise ships are anchored behind Bar Island in Frenchman's Bay off Bar Harbor on Oct. 3, 2022. The Voyager of the Seas, left, can carry more than 3,800 passengers, while the Nieuw Statendum, right, has the capacity for more than 2,600 people.
Nicole Ogrysko
/
Maine Public
Two large cruise ships are anchored behind Bar Island in Frenchman's Bay off Bar Harbor on Oct. 3, 2022. The Voyager of the Seas, left, can carry more than 3,800 passengers, while the Nieuw Statendum, right, has the capacity for more than 2,600 people.

A federal judge is expected to weigh in on a controversial ordinance that limits cruise ship visitors in Bar Harbor this summer. The pending case will effectively delay the restrictions for at least a few more months.

A group of Bar Harbor businesses, pier operators and tour companies sued the town last year over the ordinance, which limits the number of cruise ship passengers to 1,000 people a day. They argued that the new policy, which voters approved last fall, violates federal maritime law and several clauses of the U.S. Constitution. And they said passenger limits would have a negative impact on their businesses if imposed during this upcoming cruise ship season.

But according to court documents filed last week, town officials have they won't enforce the ordinance until a federal judge in Bangor has ruled on its merits. The case is expected to go to trial in July.

"The combination of the short period for the exchange of information and the rapid arrival of a trial date in July provided us with sufficient surety that we would not be exposed to damages in the meantime," said Tim Woodcock, an Eaton Peabody attorney who's representing the plaintiffs.

Cruise ships have been a heated topic of debate in Bar Harbor for years. Bar Harbor officials set their own, looser passenger restrictions late last summer after months of negotiations with the cruise lines. The town's plan imposed daily passenger limits of 3,800 people, with the exception of July and August, when daily caps of 3,500 people would be in effect. It also set monthly caps on cruise ship passengers.

But with implementation of the 1,000-visitor limit effectively paused until a judge weighs in on its merits, the town's cruise ship management plan will stay in place, at least temporarily.

The Penobscot Bay and River Pilots Association, which services Frenchman Bay, joined the lawsuit on the side of the plaintiffs earlier this year. Charlie Sidman, one of the leaders behind the original passenger reduction petition, has been granted intervenor status in the case.