“Mega” cruise ships will be required to pay $6 per passenger if they want to come to Rockland, city councilors agreed March 8.

The council voted 4-1 to hike the fee from the $1 per passenger that had been in place. The Rockland Harbor Management Commission had asked the council to impose an $8 per passenger fee on huge cruise ships that come into port, citing what it said are problems other communities have with the vessels.

The council’s vote came after a dozen people spoke out on the issue, with a majority asking the council to impose the higher recommended fee.

Former Councilor Joseph Steinberger said the council should not sell the city short. He also urged councilors to listen to the recommendations of the committees that do the research.

Steinberger said while he is not opposed to these large cruise ships coming to Rockland, there is a cost to any economic development.

Melissa Maker, the chairwoman of the harbor commission, said the commission also was not opposed to the large cruise ships but the city should proceed with caution. The city has had good experiences with the smaller cruise ships that have been coming to Rockland for several years, Maker said.

The commission said other communities such as Portland and Bar Harbor have seen negative effects from these large vessels including ocean pollution, harm to the lobster industry, an increase in crime, and people avoiding downtown when the ships are in port.

Beth Bowley, who operates a clothing store in downtown Rockland, said last year’s visit of the Jewel of the Seas negatively impacted her business. She said 70 to 75 percent of her customers are local residents and many of them told her they would not shop downtown when the large cruise ships were in port.

The Jewel of the Seas visited Rockland Oct. 4 last year and is scheduled to make a return trip to Rockland in October 2010. The ship carries 2,500 passengers and a crew of 760.

The vote by the council would increase its fee from about $2,500 per visit to $15,000 per visit if the vessel carried 2,500 passengers.

The 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.

Lorain Francis, executive director of Rockland Main Street Inc., said some businesses had their best day of the year while others saw no impact from the cruise ship’s arrival last year.

Francis reminded councilors of Rockland’s maritime heritage and how it has served passenger vessels throughout its history.

Shari Closter, the executive director for the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce, told councilors that many people have put numerous hours into the effort to attract cruise ships over the years. She urged councilors to postpone the vote on a fee hike.

The vote was 4-1 with Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson voting no. Dickerson had called for imposing the full $8 fee.

Councilor Brian Harden recommended the lower fee because he was concerned the $8 level would send the wrong message. He pointed out that Rockland has only one large cruise ship visit.

He also said he disputed comments by the public that the council was selling the city short by not imposing an $8 fee.

Council limits music at restaurant

The council also voted March 8 to extend the entertainment license for the Trackside restaurant at the train station at Union and Pleasant streets. The council voted, however, to set an 11 p.m. limit on when music can be played at the restaurant.

This came despite the plea from the business’s owners and several supporters that it would not be fair to place added restrictions on the business, which has not been found to be in violation of Rockland’s noise limits.

Co-owner Kelly Woods said it was not fair to place the business in jeopardy because of the complaints of three households, particularly after the restaurant has taken many steps to reduce noise. The restaurant had been allowed to have music playing until 1 a.m.

She said that within a short distance from their restaurant there are two bars.

The vote to limit the music to 11 p.m. was 3-2 with Mayor Deborah McNeil and Councilor Eric Hebert opposed. Hebert had recommended renewing the license but then having the council meet with the owners and neighbors to try to work out a solution.