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March 1, 2024

Judge in lawsuit says Bar Harbor can limit visitor influx from cruise ships

big blue boat and bus and trees FILE PHOTO / LAURIE SCHREIBER A cruise ship is shown anchored off the Bar Harbor shore in a past season.

A judge on Thursday issued a decision that supports the town of Bar Harbor’s limit on the number of passengers who can disembark there from visiting cruise ships.

The ruling responded to a lawsuit filed against the town by a local business group, called the Association to Protect and Preserve Local Livelihoods, or APPLL.

The lawsuit sought to reverse a cap on the number of people allowed to disembark daily to 1,000. The cap was backed by a citizens petition followed by a November 2022 vote. 

U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker wrote that the 1,000-person limitation “is a significant downshift from the passenger caps previously observed in Bar Harbor. But that downshift also promotes noneconomic interests.”

He continued, “Insofar as the ordinance reduces the number of persons who visit Bar Harbor by cruise ship, the ordinance commensurably advances Bar Harbor’s local interest in lessening congestion — particularly at the waterfront, over which the cruise industry will otherwise domineer.

"This noneconomic benefit, while not precisely measurable, is both real and reasonably well calibrated to ameliorate the particularized excesses of modern cruise tourism and how it interfaces with Bar Harbor’s waterfront.”

In a statement, the town said it “is pleased with the outcome of the lawsuit.”

The town council is expected to provide a public statement concerning the decision after it meets with legal counsel in executive session on March 4. 

“The town remains committed to defending and exercising its home rule authority to enact and enforce reasonable regulations to protect the health, well-being and happiness of its citizens,” the statement said.

APPLL has said the limit will eliminate cruise ships from Bar Harbor and cause economic losses.

But Walker wrote that “a 1,000-passenger cap is an appropriate means of recalibrating the town’s approach to this very local concern.”

He added, “What this case really involves is the contention that cruise lines are able to compel local accommodation of their private assessment of the ideal economies of scale for cruise tourism.”

The 2022 vote came after several years of debate over whether the number of cruise ships strains resources or is a welcome source of tourism-related revenue.

Bar Harbor is Maine's largest cruise ship port of call and the number of ships and ship capacity has been going up. The port has been booking more than 150 ships in recent years, many carrying several thousand passengers.

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