In a landmark ruling, the picturesque town of Bar Harbor, Maine, has secured the right to implement a daily cap of 1,000 passengers from cruise ships, aiming to balance tourism with environmental and community well-being.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maine, led by Judge Lance Walker, upheld Bar Harbor’s legislative initiative to limit the daily disembarkation of cruise ship passengers to 1,000.

This ruling comes as a response to long-standing concerns from residents about the environmental and infrastructural impact of the surge in tourists brought by the cruise industry. 

However, local businesses, reliant on tourism for economic survival, raised objections, fearing stricter controls could adversely affect their livelihoods.

In his ruling, Judge Walker said the 1,000-person cap “is a significant downshift from the passenger caps previously observed in Bar Harbor.”

He continued to say, “But that downshift also promotes noneconomic interests,” emphasizing that the regulation aligns with Bar Harbor’s interests in reducing congestion and maintaining the town’s character.

Cruise Ship Visitors in Bar Harbor (Photo Credit: New England Photo)

Said Judge Walker“This noneconomic benefit, while not precisely measurable, is both real and reasonably well calibrated to ameliorate the particularized excesses of modern cruise tourism and how it interfaces with Bar Harbor’s waterfront.”

Following the ruling, the town of Bar Harbor released a statement saying it was “pleased with the outcome of the lawsuit.”

“The Council will provide a public statement concerning the decision after it assembles and meets with legal counsel in executive session on March 4, 2024,” the statement continued.

Bar Harbor, a picturesque coastal town on Mount Desert Island, Maine, is renowned for its stunning landscapes and access to Acadia National Park. As of the 2020 census, the town’s population is 5,089, yet Bar Harbor plays host to more than 4 million tourists annually.

A 2021 survey revealed a community deeply concerned about the negative impacts of cruise tourism, with 55% of respondents viewing it more negatively than positively for Bar Harbor. The survey also revealed that 53% of the population felt cruise tourism negatively affected their quality of life.

Read Also: Cruise Port in Maine Votes To Restrict Cruise Ship Visitors

Cruise Passengers in Bar Harbor (Photo Credit: Darryl Brooks)

A November 8, 2022, referendum, approved to impose a 1,000-person daily disembarkation cap on cruise ships starting in the 2024 season, encountered resistance from the local business community.

Represented by the Association to Protect and Preserve Local Livelihoods (APPLL), these businesses filed an appeal with the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine in December 2022, just one month following the measure’s approval.

Despite the challenge, the court’s February 29, 2024, ruling affirmed the legality of the cap, marking a significant victory for proponents of the measure.

With the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine upholding the ordinance to cap the number of cruise ship passengers allowed to disembark daily, the 2024 cruise schedule for Bar Harbor is now under scrutiny.

As it stands, Bar Harbor is poised to welcome over 100 ships during the town’s cruise season. Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Gem is the first set to arrive on May 2, 2024, carrying up to 2,394 passengers.

The last ship scheduled to visit Bar Harbor, Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Season October 28, 2024, has a passenger capacity of over 3,100.

Photo Credit: Eric Jeremiah photos / Shutterstock

Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas, accommodating up to 2,048 guests, and Liberty of the Seas, holding up to 4,375 passengers, are also slated to call on the port during the summer and fall.

Other big names in cruising are set to visit Bar Harbor, as well, including Holland America’s Volendam, with up to 1,839 guests, and Zuiderdam, with up to 1,916 guests. Princess Cruises will bring Emerald Princess and up to 3,577 guests beginning in July, and Enchanted Princess will bring up to 3,660 passengers in August.

The ruling now puts the spotlight on cruise operators. They must navigate the new regulations by possibly limiting passenger disembarkation or altering their schedules to comply with the town’s mandate.

In light of the new constraints, some ships may bypass Bar Harbor by visiting nearby ports that do not impose such limitations, including Portland, Maine, or Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Canada.

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