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Divided Rockland City Council enacts limits on large cruise ships

By Stephen Betts | Aug 13, 2018
Photo by: Stephen Betts David Troup, communications officer for the Farnsworth Art Museum, is one of more than 30 people who spoke Monday night, Aug. 13, for two hours at the public comment session of the Rockland City Council meeting on the issue of limiting large cruise ships.

Rockland — The Rockland City Council voted Monday night, Aug. 13, to impose a limit on the number of large cruise ships that can come into the harbor.

The vote came at the end of a three-hour meeting, which included two hours of public comment, almost exclusively on the cruise ship issue. Again, the public was nearly evenly divided on the issue.

The vote to set a limit was 3-2, with Mayor Valli Geiger and Councilors Adam Ackor and Amelia Magjik supporting the caps.

The council agreed to up the limit at the request of Ackor.

The order approved by the council sets no limits on cruise ships that carry up to 500 passengers, other than that there can no more than two at a time.

Cruise ships with more than 500 passengers would not be allowed for 10 months of the year. The only time they can use the harbor would be September and October, when there would be a limit of six a year.

The daily passenger maximum in September and October would be 3,000.

The limits will be reviewed annually.

The City Council voted in March to create the  Ad-Hoc Harbor Management Plan Committee after months of passionate debate about the benefits and detriments to Rockland from large cruise ships. The council directed the committee to develop a new harbor management plan. The committee held its first meeting July 25.

Geiger has said this committee is not likely to have recommendations for at least a year, if not longer. She has said the city's waterfront facilities simply cannot accommodate the larger ships without restrictions.

Ackor said the compromise limits would put the issue to rest for a while.

Councilor Ed Glaser said he was disappointed the limits were placed as the committee looks to come up with a community consensus. He said the council was turning its back on the community's maritime history.

More than 30 people spoke out at the meeting during the two-hour public comment session. The speakers were nearly evenly divided between supporters and opponents of the limits.

Former Councilor Eric Hebert said he could not understand how this had become an issue, since Rockland gets so few large cruise ships each year. He said residents should be happy that thousands of people are not coming to Rockland with their cars, causing traffic and parking problems.

David Troup, the communications officer for the Farnsworth Art Museum, said the museum supports a balanced approach. He said the number of visits from large ships does not threaten the fabric of the community.

He questioned the repeated comparisons to Bar Harbor, since Rockland is getting only two large cruise ships this year, while Bar Harbor has 180 visits.

Troup said the 1,400 passengers who visit Rockland from a large cruise ship are far fewer than the number who attend the North Atlantic Blues Festival, and the people do not cause parking or traffic problems. Troup pointed out the Blues Festival was a fantastic event for the community.

David Wylie said the large cruise ships are a threat to the air and water of the community. He claimed the cruise ship passengers spend only a fraction of what land-based tourists spend.

"Rockland is not for sale. We will not become a cruise-ship sideshow," he said.

Downtown business owners were also split on the issue. Ruth Starr, general manager of 250 Main Hotel, said she was pro-tourism and pro-economic development, but that large cruise ships did not benefit a community.

A review of the berthing anchorage reservations on file at the Rockland Harboraster's Office shows that there are two reservations for 2018 for cruise ships that carry 500 or more passengers.

The Crystal Symphony is scheduled to arrive in Rockland Sept. 4, carrying 940 passengers.

The Queen Mary, which can carry 2,450 passengers, is scheduled to be in port Sept. 25.

For 2019, only one reservation has been received for the larger cruise ships. The sole booking for next year is the Sapphire Princess, which can carry 3,160 passengers.

Cruise ships that have reservations in already are exempt from the caps.

Correction: A cap of 9,000 passengers per month for cruise ships carrying more than 500 passengers was removed from the order.

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