Rockland postpones raising cruise ship docking fees pending economic analysis

Posted:  Wednesday, August 16, 2017 - 12:00pm
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ROCKLAND – During their Monday, Aug, 14, meeting, City Council members voted to postpone a decision regarding fee increases for cruise ships visiting Rockland Harbor. After hearing from various local businesses, individuals and nonprofits, all with differing opinions, councilors decided to research further. They also considered hosting a workshop with cruise ship representatives, as well as local professionals.

The proposed increases would raise dock fees for cruise ships from $8 to $10 per passenger. Half of the $10 would be known as an anchorage fee, the other half considered a tendering fee to the public landing. The resulting income, in turn, would go toward harbor facility development and harbor waterfront general accounts.

Rockland is not an international port with federal Transportation Security Administration requirements like Bar Harbor and Portland. In response to assertions that Rockland does not charge as much as other ports, Councilor Ed Glaser noted that the Harbor Management Commission has not provided those details.

“The last I heard, Bar Harbor, for the two separate fees, the town got $4.25, and the private landing that they use got $4,” Glaser said. “So if we’re comparing towns, Bar Harbor’s only charging approximately $8 per passenger. If you’re comparing it to Portland, $11 gets them a place to tie the boat up so the passengers just walk off the boat....New York City gets $40 per passenger, where they can tie up the boat right at the dock.

“We’re not providing that service. At some point, the fees you charge have to be appropriate to the services you’re providing.”

Others said during the meeting they feared Rockland would become another Bar Harbor with Main Street cheapened with trinket sales.

And then there were those who said that if fees increase, there would be a decrease of cruise ships visiting Rockland.

“When more ships come, the quality of a Main Street descends to coffee cups and T-shirts,” said Rockland resident Joan Wright. “We certainly want a town with a good economic base, but we don’t want to become another Bar Harbor.... We are what we are, and we don’t want to be overrun by the cruise ships.”

Wright said that the increase in fees, requested by the Harbor Management Commission, would help make needed improvements and allow for the application of matching grants.

According to David Troup, communications officer for the Farnsworth Museum, the Farnsworth has seen 18,000 more admission tickets sold as a result of the ship traffic, proving also that not all passengers are immediately being bused out of town. Store sales increase, and, as the statistic was repeated during the evening from several individuals, one in three visitors return to a port at a later date.

Rockland Main Street Inc.’s Gordon Page urged the community to show off Rockland’s assets as an enticement to increasing passenger traffic, “rather than increase the cost for a stagnant and potentially diminishing number of ships.”

“Frankly, with the possible exception of the longer gang plank at the public landing, there is little if any difference in what a cruise ship passenger who arrived in Rockland five years ago would see at the City floats if they made a return trip today,” he said.

As of Monday, Aug. 14, dates for further review of this topic had not been determined.

 

Reach Sarah Thompson at news@penbaypilot.com