Wednesday, September 13, 2017

How many cruise ships is too many in an iconic town surrounded by a national park?

On Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park (Boston Globe photo by John Tlumacki)
Perched on the rocky northeast shore of Mount Desert Island and surrounded by Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine, has long been known for its natural beauty. In recent years more cruise ships have made shore stops, and some locals see them as a means of economic stability, pumping in tourist money. But others think that the ships are ruining iconic viewsheds, and that more cruise-ship tourists on day trips would drive away more valuable long-term tourists who spend more money, Jenna Russell reports for The Boston Globe.

A proposed pier that would attract more and bigger ships has become a lightning rod for the issue, sparking fierce debates among locals. The Bar Harbor Town Council had advanced the idea, saying the pier could be built at the abandoned site of a defunct ferry terminal nearby. The council must decide before November whether to buy the terminal.

Charles Sidman organized the Bar Harbor Residents Association last month to fight against the pier. "This is natural beauty as magnificent as it gets — to put a bunch of cruise ships in the middle of that is like putting a McDonald’s in the middle of the Grand Canyon," he told Russell. Another group opposing the pier, Friends of Frenchman Bay, launched an online petition that has more than 1,000 signatures.

Owners of the waterfront mansions that made Bar Harbor famous have complained that the cruise ships spoil their view of the water. The owners of two of those homes filed suit against the recent zoning change that would allow the pier. The Mount Desert Islander said in an editorial, "The prospect of ships anchoring on MDI’s much-ballyhooed 'quiet' side, only to whisk away the visitors to Bar Harbor, seems grossly unfair. It is a blatant attempt to make an end run around the cruise ship cap in Bar Harbor. . . . The time appears to have come to establish limits on where cruise ships can go before a vital part of this island’s heritage and quality of life is spoiled forever."

Opponents of the ships also cite frequent overcrowding in Acadia National Park in recent years. The statewide "CruiseMaine" marketing initiative has helped cruise ship traffic more than double since 2003. And Bar Harbor business interests like it.

"Town Council Chairman Paul Paradis, who owns a hardware store downtown, said he supports the development of a cruise ship facility because it would allow Bar Harbor to acquire, and pay for, a valuable waterfront site, while also strengthening the local economy, where merchants have to hustle to eke out a year-round living from a five-month business season," Russell reports. “This is not an inexpensive place to live, and it gets harder and harder for our kids to stay here,” Paradis said. “The only way they can stay is with a viable local economy, and I see this as a part of that economy.”

Some other local business owners agree, saying their businesses would not have survived without cruise ships, "especially in September and October, when visits by ships sharply increase and the land-based tourism of summer falls away," Russell reports.

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