Bar Harbor Cruise Limits to Face Legal Challenges

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A group of businesses in Bar Harbor, Maine, is suing the town over an ordinance that limits the number of cruise ship passengers to a maximum of 1,000 per day. The businesses filed a lawsuit in federal court last week claiming that the ordinance violates federal maritime laws and several clauses in the US Constitution. 

The businesses include retail stores, restaurants, and companies that operate privately-owned piers and tender boats that ferry passengers from the ships to Bar Harbor, affected by the referendum passed in November last year.

Bar Harbor Sued by Local Businesses

Bar Harbor is a popular port for cruise ship passengers throughout the fall, when cruise lines offer popular cruises along the US and Canadian eastern seaboard. Visitor numbers from cruise ships regularly surpass the number of people living in the town, which has become a hot topic in the last year. 

An ordinance was passed in the previous year in November that restricted the number of daily visitors from cruise ships to 1000 per day. The referendum that led to the ordinance was initiated by a citizen’s petition earlier in 2022. 

However, local businesses now argue that the ordinance falls foul of the arguments presented in the petition, which argued that cruise ship passengers significantly impact the town’s services and environment more than other visitors.

“The purpose section of the initiative was asserting that somehow people who get off cruise ships have a greater impact on city services, town services, health services, the environment of the town, than people who arrive by all other means of conveyance, including automobiles,” said attorney Tim Woodcock, who represents the plaintiffs. 

Bar Harbor, Maine
Photo Credit: Darryl Brooks / Shutterstock

The lawsuit itself reads as follows: “This Complaint challenges, under the Constitution and the laws of the United States, the legality of efforts to all but close the port of Bar Harbor to cruise ships engaged in the interstate and foreign commerce of the United States,” 

“The 1,000-person disembarkation limit, which covers passengers and crew, is antithetical to the Supremacy and Commerce clauses of the U.S. Constitution and the resultant comprehensive federal regulatory scheme that governs the operations of cruise ships and maritime facilities.”

The local council had expected a lawsuit and believed implementing a new system to count and track disembarking cruise ship passengers could be difficult. 

However, one of the leaders of the original petition says they will be fighting the lawsuit, and the arguments made are: “spurious attempts at big-word bullying by large corporations desperate to maintain their longstanding economic exploitation and colonization of normal citizens and communities.

Cruise Lines Not Happy With Decision

Bar Harbor, Maine, is a popular destination for cruises, as it offers beautiful natural surroundings, charming New England charm, and various recreational and cultural activities. Nearly all major cruise lines offer cruises to the quaint little town, and the option of not sailing here will not sit well in the executive offices.

Cruise Ship in Bar Harbor, Maine
Photo Credit: Darryl Brooks / Shutterstock

The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) called Maine a marquee destination last year and repeated the importance of the destination to cruise lines. It is not unlikely that CLIA, at a minimum, will be stepping in at some point and offering up its opinion on the matter. However, it will need to keep in mind that many locals have no wish to see cruise ships in the town.

In a survey in 2021, 55% of respondents said cruise ship tourism is more negative than positive for Bar Harbor. Only 35% perceive it as more positive than negative. There is still time for the local businesses and petitioners to find common ground and agree on the best way forward.

The petition allows for a gradual transition, meaning any cruise ship calls booked before spring 2022 will still be permitted. From 2024, the maximum limit of 1000 guests per day will be fully implemented. 

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