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November 30, 2018

Bar Harbor to partner with trade association on impact study of cruise ships

Photo / Renee Cordes
Photo / Renee Cordes
Bar Harbor, which already enjoys a substantial number of visitors sailing in Down East waters, is partnering with the Cruise Lines International Association to study the potential impact of cruise ship visitation on the popular resort town.

Despite concerns from a member of the Bar Harbor Town Council, the governing body agreed this week to partner with the Cruise Lines International Association to study the potential impact of cruise ship visitation.

CLIA, the world's largest cruise industry trade association, will include in the study a look at parking and congestion issues.

At the council's Nov. 27 meeting, council member Stephen Coston reported that he and council Chairman Gary Friedmann met with a CLIA representative the previous week.

Council member Joe Minutolo said he was concerned about public perception around the town partnering with a cruise association to conduct a study around the industry's own activities.

"I'd like to see us have some say in this and not just rely on the cruise ship industry to do this study," said Minutolo "They're a very powerful industry. They are very persuasive."

"We came away with the conclusion there are short-term and long-term goals to deal with," Coston said.

The most pressing issue agreed upon, Coston said, is congestion at the town pier, which is compounded by tour buses that pick up cruise passengers there, and which take up parking spaces for other vehicles.

CLIA,, which has an obvious stake in the issue, has offered to fund the study at no cost to the town.

"We've got huge traffic issues regardless of what the cruise ships are bringing in," Minutolo said. Minutolo added that the study might be premature, given other projects the town has underway. That includes the upcoming purchase of the former CAT ferry terminal and a new parking plan the town has underway.

But Coston said the study is aptly timed.

"They share many of the same concerns we share," Coston said. "They don't want to see Bar Harbor struggle from congestion issues because they're held responsible for it … I don't see them as likely to drive it in a biased direction, because they want to see Bar Harbor less congested and they want to sort out the parking issues, too, because it's in their interest as well."

The study proposal comes in response to a council proposal that the town increase its per-passenger fee.

The scope of work as laid out in the CLIA's study proposal includes:

  • Development of options to alleviate or improve congested areas surrounding the cruise ship tendering pier
  • Consideration of broader tourism–related congestion and traffic issues in Bar Harbor during cruise season
  • Identification of parking and traffic flow of commercial ground transportation providers working with the cruise industry and recommended options for management and ongoing monitoring of users in the designated operations area
  • Recommendations for improved pedestrian flows that will reduce congestion while maintaining cruise visitor exposure to the town
  • Consideration of other town-owned properties that can supply relief to congestion created by tourism.

Matthew Hochman, the council's vice chairman, said he was satisfied that the scope of the study would go beyond parking around the cruise ship area, to broader tourism-related issues during cruise season. And the study could be used as the basis for a fee increase, he said.

"At the end of this study, we might be able to sit down with them and say, 'Now we'd like to increase the fees you pay for these specific reasons that you've outlined in the study,'" he said. "So I think this is a huge step forward."

Completion of the study is expected to be June 1, 2019, or sooner.

For 2019, 176 cruise ship visits to Bar Harbor are tentatively scheduled. Maine's busiest cruise ship port, Bar Harbor had 180 ship visits scheduled for 2018, 14 more than 2017.

Those numbers are fluid. Harbormaster Charlie Phippen reported to Bar Harbor's Cruise Ship Committee in October that 160 ships had booked to date, with 12 small ships and eight large ships that had canceled.

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