The Bar Harbor Town Council voted unanimously earlier this week to dissolve the Council’s cruise ship committee.
The committee was originally intended to help “grow and manage the cruise ship-based tourism and related activities within Bar Harbor,” according to a statement provided to the Maine Wire by Councilor Kyle Shank.
The Council voted 6-0 in favor of scrapping the committee at their meeting earlier this week.
According to the Bangor Daily News (BDN), many councilors expressed support for the committee’s purpose — and for the work done by those who served on it — but felt that it had outlived its usefulness.
Councilors also told the news outlet that they felt the town ought to have tourism committee geared toward balancing the needs of residents and tourists more effectively.
Similar sentiments were echoed by Shank in his statement to the Maine Wire.
“Given we have neither committee nor staff members focused on tourism and economic development,” Shank said, “I believe it would be much more fruitful to have a democratic body that works to build a comprehensive plan for tourism management, inclusive of sea-based visitation, in order to give the public – both those that own businesses and those that do not – a sense of participation, partnership, and ownership of this incredibly important part of Bar Harbor’s economy.”
“We need to be ready to jump in and figure out an overall holistic sustainable tourism plan,” said council member Matt Hochman to the BDN. “I think a management committee is the only way we can do that.”
Shank told the Maine Wire that his “reasons for voting to dissolve this committee do not stem from their success, but rather from two structural complaints.”
The councilor first pointed toward the fact that industry representatives had dedicated seats on the committee.
“First, the Cruise Ship Committee is the only Committee written into our Town Code that has specific seats held for specific industry representatives,” he said. “While this certainly may have served a need at the time, I believe it is unprincipled to have an entire committee focused solely on the advancement of a single industry as we would not, I believe, do this equally for other industries in our community.”
Secondly, Shank noted concerns that the town has focused too narrowly on the cruise ship industry at the expense of developing a strategy regarding tourism as a whole.
“Building on that, my second complaint is that our myopic focus on the cruise ship industry has made it so that we’ve never had to build out any municipal perspective on tourism as a whole, of which cruise-ship based visitation represents only a small fraction,” Shank said.
Cruise ships — and cruise ship tourists specifically — have been a major source of controversy in Bar Harbor over the course of the past few months.
Nearly a year ago, in November of 2022, Bar Harbor voters approved a new law limiting the number of cruise ship passengers allowed to disembark on any given day to 1,000.
About a month later, a group of businesses filed a complaint against the town, alleging that the ordinance was in violation of the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution on account of the fact that they believe cruise ships fall under the category of interstate commerce.
The case went to trial in early July, but a final verdict has yet to be reached by the court.
Aside from Shank, none of the other Bar Harbor Town Councilors immediately responded to the Maine Wire’s request for comment on the council’s decision to dissolve the cruise ship committee.