The Rockland Harbor Management Commission has asked the City Council to impose an $8 per passenger fee on huge cruise ships that come into port, citing what it said are problems that other communities have with the vessels.

“The Harbor Management Commission has spent a considerable amount of discussion and investigation before arriving at these fee increases,” the commission stated. “We want to be clear that we are not saying no to cruise ships; we are just requesting that the council take a careful and thoughtful look at the reality of the impact on our small town.”

Harbor Management Commission member Louise MacLellan-Ruf made the presentation at the council’s March 1 meeting. The council will vote on the recommended fee increase at its Monday, March 8 meeting.

She also said that Rockland is a destination and that the fees are reasonable.

“Rockland should not sell itself short for an easy dollar on a vague promise of economic development,” MacLellan-Ruf said.

Currently, large cruise ships such as the Jewel of the Seas that visited Rockland Oct. 4 last year pay $1 per passenger. The Jewel of the Seas is scheduled to make a return trip to Rockland in October 2010. The ship carries 2,500 passengers and a crew of 760.

This would increase the fee from about $2,500 per visit to $20,000 per visit if the vessel carried 2,500 passengers.

The report from the Harbor Management Commission stated that Bar Harbor and Portland have had a host of issues with the “mega cruise ships.” Some of those concerns¬† include environmental impacts such as diesel engines that “spew exhaust equivalent to 10,000 cars,” ocean currents that bring discharged sewage dumped three miles at sea to the shore, and pollution that negatively affects the lobster industry.

The commission also stated that studies have shown that local residents often avoid areas and businesses during peak shore visits in some towns and are “apt to avoid downtown at all times for fear a ship will be in port.”

The commission stated that another concern of these other communities is an increase in crime.

Last year prior to the arrival of the 962-foot long Jewel of the Seas, the first large cruise ship to visit Rockland in memory,  Amy Powers, director of CruiseMaineUSA, said Maine ports would see an economic impact of more than $25 million from such visits.

The local chambers of commerce also organized a welcoming committee that greeted the passengers when they arrived at Rockland’s public landing.

MacLellan-Ruf said she heard anecdotally that merchants in Rockland did not make money from last year’s business but restaurants saw an increase in business during that one day.

City Councilor Eric Hebert said Rockland is in its infancy in trying to attract cruise ships.

Councilor Tom Molloy said he didn’t think the extra cost would stop the cruise ships from coming to Rockland. He also said he was not impressed that a lot of the passengers went directly to Camden and shopped there but not in Rockland.

The $8 per passenger fee would apply to only those ships that require U.S. Coast Guard secure facilities. The smaller cruise ships that have visited Rockland over the past several years would not be affected by the fee.

Half of the $8 per passenger fee would be reserved for public improvement projects at Harbor Park or along the waterfront. The other half is expected to offset the city’s costs for tenders and security.

In Bar Harbor, Town Manager Dana Reed said that as with anything there is an impact when a cruise ship arrives in town. He said the 150,000 cruise ship passengers Bar Harbor receives during the year amount to 5 percent of all visitors. Bar Harbor has seen the number of cruise ship passengers jump from 30,000 in 2000 to the 150,000 currently.

Bar Harbor charges $4 per passenger with $1.50 of the $4 set aside for public improvements along the waterfront such as new restroom facilities. The fee is estimated to generate $625,000 for the town this year.