Court decision supports restrictions on cruise ships in port

A federal judge has upheld measures passed by Bar Harbor, Maine town, to limit cruise ship passenger numbers. U.S. District Judge Lance Walker ruled a referendum passed in 2022 does not violate any existing state or federal inter-state maritime laws.

Business Owners Opposed Referendum Vote

portland maine ocean
Portland, Maine (Photo courtesy of Explora Journeys)

The vote called for a daily cap of 1,000 cruise passengers, but local business owners took legal action to overturn it, saying it was unconstitutional. The judge disagreed.

“Congestion in downtown Bar Harbor is a seasonal fact of life, but it is exacerbated by the regular morning and afternoon pulse of ship passengers and tour buses,” Judge Walker wrote in his ruling. “The 1,000-person limitation is a significant downshift from the passenger caps previously observed in Bar Harbor. But that downshift also promotes noneconomic interests.”

Town is heavily reliant on seasonal tourism

A large cruise ship in the water near a forest at Bar Harbor.

As one of the state’s major ports for cruise ship traffic, Bar Harbor welcomed 272,000 cruise passengers in 2022. The town only has a permanent population of about 5,000. Due to its proximity to Arcadia National Park, around four million tourists visit the town annually.

Bar Harbor is a popular port of call on most New England and Canada cruise itineraries. The impacts of over-tourism have been felt for years, with traffic congestion and issues over cruise ship capacity limits beginning to gain support during the pandemic shutdown.

A survey by Pan Atlantic Research three years ago found over half of Bar Harbor residents said cruise ships negatively impacted the quality of life in the town.

Will this pan out? In a similar move, the residents of Key West voted against large cruise ship docking in the city during a 2020 election. A majority of the residents voted for the ban and won. However, that decision was overturned by Florida’s governor, who stated that residents can not control maritime commerce.

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