Local businesses have once again petitioned the Maine District Court to prevent the town of Bar Harbor, Maine, from enforcing a new regulation that limits cruise ship passengers allowed to disembark to 1,000 per day.

The petition follows a decision by the United States First Circuit Court to allow the ban to remain in effect during ongoing litigation.

The injunction request, filed on May 30, aims to stop Bar Harbor from using the ordinance to deny cruise ship reservations while the nearly two-year legal dispute continues to unfold.

Photo Credit: Eric Jeremiah photos / Shutterstock

The ordinance follows a November 2022 vote, where 58% of Bar Harbor residents approved the new law in an effort to prevent overcrowding and to promote sustainability in the area, which is home to Acadia National Park.

A month after the vote, local businesses challenged the ordinance, claiming it violated the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution by interfering with interstate commerce. The case went to trial in July 2023 and on March 1, 2024, Judge Lance E. Walker, ruled in favor of Bar Harbor, upholding the passenger limit.

The Association to Preserve and Protect Local Livelihoods (APPLL), representing the local business owners, appealed the decision to the First Circuit Court in late March. They also sought an injunction to stop Bar Harbor from enforcing the limit while the appeal is pending. 

However, on May 24, the court denied the motion “without prejudice,” allowing the plaintiffs to seek a similar injunction in District Court, which they did on May 30.

Read Also: Bar Harbor Gets Approval to Radically Limit Cruise Ship Passengers

As the cruise season to the destination launched with the May 2 arrival of the 2,394-passenger Norwegian Gem, the first of many visits by a Norwegian Cruise Line vessel, APPLL is requesting an expedited process, with a 12-day window for briefs before a judge issues a ruling in hopes of preventing the city from enforcing the ordinance as other cruise lines are scheduled to call through October.

The Town Council voted to hold a public hearing on the ordinance on June 18, directing the Town Manager to gather input. The outcome of the hearing will determine if the town moves ahead with the daily passenger cap.

As the race between Bar Harbor and local businesses intensifies, cruise lines are left waiting in the wings. 

If the Town Council begins enforcing the ban, cruise ships like Holland America’s ms Volendam, scheduled to arrive five times in June alone with 1,432 passengers and 647 crew members, will have to limit the number of disembarkments, potentially disappointing many cruisegoers and crew, and forcing cancelations of shore excursions.

However, ahead of the 2024 cruise season, other cruise lines made the decision to skip Bar Harbor and avoid the confusion altogether. For instance, Royal Caribbean’s 2,514-passenger Vision of the Seas and 3,634-passenger Liberty of the Seas, along with Celebrity Cruises’ 2,850-passenger Celebrity Eclipse, are now calling on Portland, Maine.

Photo Credit: Darryl Brooks / Shutterstock

Also adding to the legal woes is a challenge initiated by Charles Sidman, who led the 2022 citizens’ call for the partial ban. Sidman points out that the Town Council has allowed ships with more than 1,000 passengers to dock if booked before the November 2022 vote. He says the decision contradicts the town’s code, which required the limit to apply to all permit applications pending or filed after March 17, 2022. 

Sidman filed a lawsuit with the Hancock County Superior Court to stop the town from honoring reservations by cruise ships that violate the passenger limit.

The town dismissed his case on May 2, and he is now asking the Bar Harbor Board of Appeals to override the Council. The Board will be reviewing his request on June 11.

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