Cruise Ships Have Made Bar Harbor Popular. But Have They Ruined It?

Cruise Ships Have Made Bar Harbor Popular. But Have They Ruined It?

Critics of the ships have other complaints, saying the giant floating palaces are wildly out of scale with the town and create noise, air, water and light pollution. (Acadia boasts famously bright stars at night, and Bar Harbor has an ordinance to reduce its sky glow.)

But even detractors recognize that the ships are here to stay. And in June, residents voted for a zoning change that cleared the way for the town to buy an old unused ferry terminal, a mile out of town, to accommodate them.

Among the uses for the terminal proposed by the town’s consultants was a large berthing pier where the cruise ships could dock directly, allowing passengers to walk ashore. Right now, because the piers in town are relatively small, the big ships have to anchor out in the bay and use little boats to ferry passengers to town.

But the berthing-pier idea alarmed many residents and further roiled debate over how much the town should cater to the cruise ships. At an acrimonious public session, and in polling, most residents rejected a giant pier for the ships, preferring instead a marina that could have many different uses. One group went to court to try to invalidate the June vote. The letters column of the Mount Desert Islander, the local paper, bristled with angry screeds.

And then things took a surprising turn.

The town agreed to let a 40-member citizens committee figure out what was in the town’s best interest. The committee took its mission seriously, conducting hours of research on technical issues and holding numerous public meetings. A professional facilitator helped guide the discussions.

In November, as the last of the tourists left Bar Harbor for the winter, the committee agreed that it did not want a big berthing pier.


Paul Paradis, owner of Paradis True Value hardware store in Bar Harbor, has long favored a berthing pier. Credit Tristan Spinski for The New York Times

Rather, it favored converting the ferry terminal into a marina, providing public access for recreational boaters as well as parking, bike rentals and a tram to circulate through town. The cruise ships would still anchor in the bay, but smaller boats could deliver their passengers to the new marina, where they could board tour buses.

The town council then unanimously accepted the committee’s report. Many residents rejoiced, saying that the people, not the cruise ship industry, were controlling the town’s fate.

But confusion erupted later over exactly what transpired.

Mr. Paradis, the council chairman, indicated in media interviews that the council had not adopted the report and would not necessarily follow its recommendation for a marina.

“All we did was accept their report,” said Mr. Paradis, who has long favored a berthing pier. “But we have not decided to build a pier or not build a pier.”

He said the next step would be for the town’s consultants to analyze whether the marina could be financially self-sustaining.

At the town council’s Dec. 19 meeting, residents and other council members said Mr. Paradis’s comments were confusing and appeared to suggest, contrary to popular belief, that the plan for the ferry terminal was unresolved. This promised the debate would continue, as residents prepare to vote in June on whether to authorize the town’s purchase of the terminal for $3.5 million.

And as winter settled over Bar Harbor, another threat appeared. The Trump administration has proposed raising the entrance fees to Acadia and certain other national parks to $70 per vehicle from $25, to pay for deferred maintenance. Many here — including some cruise ship lines — worry that this will discourage people from visiting Acadia and possibly Bar Harbor.

“Both the park and the town are facing the same puzzle,” said Ms. Durand, the inn owner. “How do you accommodate as many people as you can while still preserving the resource?”

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