Bar Harbor is ending the cruise ship committee that has offered insights and recommendations on working with the cruise industry for more than a decade, with no firm plans in motion for any sort of replacement.
This is the most recent step in the town’s efforts to limit cruise ship activity, a law that is currently being challenged in court.
Cruise Ship Committee to Be Disbanded
In a unanimous 6-0 vote, the town council of Bar Harbor, Maine has opted to eliminate the cruise ship committee that was established years ago to offer guidance on cruise tourism issues. While the committee has provided valuable information and recommendations over the years, it has come to be seen as potentially biased and no longer represents the full scale of tourism in the community.
The overall feeling among the town council is that the cruise ship committee has “outlived its purpose” as the town’s tourism has grown in various sectors over the years.
Councilor Kyle Shank spoke with the Maine Wire about what he believed to be inherent bias in the cruise ship committee.
“The Cruise Ship Committee is the only Committee written into our Town Code that has specific seats held for specific industry representatives,” Shank explained.
“While this certainly may have served a need at the time, I believe it is unprincipled to have an entire committee focused solely on the advancement of a single industry as we would not, I believe, do this equally for other industries in our community.”
The 17-member committee has been comprised of one town council member, the Harbor Master, the town’s Deputy Clerk, the local Police Chief, two local business representatives, and two local residents. Various members of local cruise industry sectors and businesses that service cruise guests were also part of the committee, including taxi tours, shore excursions, and Acadia National Park.
Among the duties of the committee were yearly reviews of the cruise season to note any operational or environmental issues, reviewing the annual cruise ship budget, maintaining open communications with the cruise industry, and making ship visitation recommendations as needed.
It must be noted that while the cruise ship committee did provide different recommendations to the town council, it has always been up to the council to either accept or reject recommendations with the entire community’s benefit under consideration.
A New Committee Planned
Now, the desire is to establish a broader, more well-rounded committee that would serve the interests of all tourism aspects, rather than just focusing on cruise ships.
Such a new committee would include input from, but not exclusive to, the cruise industry, along with other resorts, retailers, hotels, tour operators, and so forth.
At the moment, no plans have been made to form a new tourism committee, nor has there been discussion about how such a committee would be comprised or how it could possibly connect to the cruise industry.
Cruising Remains Controversial
At the moment, Bar Harbor is still seeking to cap cruise ship visits, an initiative that began in August 2022 and was approved by vote in November 2022.
In the November vote, a cap of 1,000 visitors per day was enacted, much stricter than an earlier limit of 3,500-5,500 passengers per day, depending on the season, with higher limits during the peak cruise season.
The transition to the new limits was intended as a gradual approach, but will take full effect in 2024.
Local businesses have challenged the ordinance via a federal lawsuit, however, alleging that it violates federal maritime laws as well as the US Constitution as applied to interstate commerce. That lawsuit remains undecided at this time, but the structure of local committees will not likely be impacted by the legal action.