Town Manager Expects Lawsuit Over Cruise Ship Changes
Pilots Association Says It Will Challenge Bar Harbor's New Rules
BAR HARBOR—On December 5, the Penobscot Bay & River Pilots Association sent a letter to Town Manager Kevin Sutherland stressing the organization’s concerns with the impacts of the Cruise Ship Disembarkation changes passed by voters this November. The plan limits the amount of passengers disembarking cruise ships each day to 1,000, inserts the changes into the town’s Land Use Ordinance, and calls for mechanisms to count those disembarkations as well as fines if more people leave the ships and step onto Bar Harbor land.
The letter, written by its president, Captain David Gelinas says,
“We are deeply concerned about the impacts of this initiative. Bar Harbor cruise ship traffic represents approximately 50 percent of the work handled by our association. Once in full effect, the initiative is expected to reduce passenger landings in Bar Harbor by over 90 percent. This reduction in landings means a loss of revenue for the Association and a significant decrease in pilotage needs in the Frenchman Bay and Penobscot Bay area. The actions of the Bar Harbor citizens in passing the initiative will negatively impact the Association’s ability to recruit, train, and retain skilled and competent pilots and adequately cover the fixed costs of maintaining pilotage operations in the Association’s pilotage area.
“As I am sure you are aware, maritime pilots provide critical public safety services by ensuring the careful management and free flow of traffic within their pilotage area. If our association is compromised in its functions, this threatens the viability of the pilotage system that protects Maine waters and jeopardizes the safety and security of the entire Frenchman Bay and Penobscot Bay area.
“We have retained highly experienced maritime legal counsel to advise us on the options available to us to challenge the initiative. I would appreciate if you would convey our position as set forth in this letter to the Town Council at the next meeting on December 6th. Thank you for your attention to this matter.”
Sutherland wrote in his Manager’s Update released December 6.
“Due to the passage of the Amendment to Section 125-77 - Permit Required for Certain Activities of the Land Use Ordinance (LUO), staff are instructed to develop rules and regulations to administer permit process and the counting of passengers. Staff will be discussing the process and implementation timeline and I will look to update the Council on the 20th. Letter from the Penobscot Bay & River Pilots Association Attached to this memo is a letter I received last evening from the Pilots Association. Please be advised, there is a very likely chance the citizen initiative LUO amendment will be challenged in court.”
During his manager’s minutes at the Jesup Memorial Library, Sutherland emphasized again that he wouldn’t be surprised about a lawsuit.
The initiative has many ripple effects in the industry and towns, including ports and harbors in Boston, New York and Canada, Sutherland said. The pilots can’t get enough pilotage hours if cruise ship traffic decreases in Bar Harbor. If they can’t get those hours, then they can’t get accredited by the state.
“They can go get their hours somewhere else,” said a woman at the meeting who wished to remain anonymous.
Former Town Councilor J.T. Burton said the cruise ship situation has been approximately a 15-year fight. “We’re in for a world of hurt before things get better.”
Sutherland said he doesn’t know how to defend the initiative in court, which is why he would have preferred to see the initiative prior to the petition’s submission. He stressed that this is true for all future citizens’ initiatives and petitions as well. Two weeks ago, he used the retail marijuana citizens’ petition as an example. That petition called for medical marijuana retail in several town districts. One of those districts does not exist.
During his manager’s minutes at the Jesup Memorial Library on Thursday, Sutherland said that the town council is not a judge and usually can’t determine if a petition is illegal even though it may be flawed. The town council shouldn’t make a decision to keep something off the town warrant unless it’s explicitly illegal, Sutherland said, even if it has concerns about potential lawsuits.
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