Hancock County Residents Rally at State House Against Bar Harbor Port Authority Bill

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AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - Residents surrounding Frenchman Bay in Hancock County rallied in Augusta on Tuesday.

They're speaking out against a bill that could lead to the creation of the Bar Harbor Port Authority.

Town officials have come out in support of keeping that option open to the town. But some local folks fear it could harm the environment and their land-based tourism industry.

"I know people who've told me that they're not returning to Bar Harbor. I have a friend from Massachusetts who came to Bar Harbor for twenty years. She is no longer coming to Bar Harbor and she told me the reason why is because the quality of the experience isn't what it was due to the overcrowding," said Bar Harbor resident Katherine Whitney.

Currently large cruise ships anchor off the coast of Frenchman Bay and its passengers are ferried into Bar Harbor. But a proposal before lawmakers would give the town the option of creating a port authority if residents approve of the designation.

"A port authority will affect the entire Frenchman Bay, which has many towns and many fisheries," said Bar Harbor resident Anne Marie Quinn.

"People who live in Sullivan, people who live in Sorrento, Hancock, Winter Harbor, Gouldsboro, all the towns from around the bay have no vote in June on a port authority. And yet we all share the bay, the water and the air," said Hancock resident Renata Moise.

The Friends of Frenchman Bay organized a rally at the State House with a petition signed by 3500 people to convince the legislature to oppose the bill.

They fear the property in question, the former ferry terminal owned by the state, would eventually become a mega-pier accommodating large cruise ships if the port authority was authorized.

"A town does not need a port authority to build a marina, and we feel that the efforts to continue the port authority is a blatant effort in our view to continue to eventually have a cruise ship pier there," said Moise.

A ferry terminal committee recommended to the town that the property be used as a town dock, recreation and parking area.

Supporters of the port authority option say the property would help alleviate harbor and downtown traffic congestion as well as spur economic growth.

But opponents say cruise ship passengers don't stay in hotels or eat large meals at restaurants, and therefore do not account for a large portion of their tourism industry.

"Normally people come off those enormous cruise ships and spend roughly $30 on a lobster roll, an ice cream and a tee shirt," said Quinn.

They also raised environmental concerns regarding cruise ship air and water pollution. The bill awaits votes from both the House and Senate.