Cruise ship fee increase proposal not arbitrary, says Rockland Harbor Management Commission
ROCKLAND – Advocates of a fee increase for large vessels visiting Rockland Harbor provided an element of substance to an argument that’s been in play for several months. Some business advocates, however, are still fighting to maintain what’s currently working for them.
Prior to Monday’s city council agenda-setting meeting, the suggested $10 per-passenger fee was an arbitrary number provided by a former Harbor Management Commission member, according to Councilor Adam Ackor.
Now, that $2 increase is a revenue-generator toward infrastructure upgrades to the public landing and the municipal fish pier, estimated by Harbor Master Matt Ripley at a “feasible” cost of $1.2 million.
That money would support installing another ramp to segregate passengers from other boaters trying to access personal crafts, he said. He also spoke of connecting the ramp directly to the pier, and of re-positioning the ADA ramp for easier use by the disabled.
Toward the cruise ship industry, that fee increase would be promoted as a guarantee of safety for passengers, according to Commission member Louise MacClellan-Ruf.
“Those floats are not substantial enough for those types of passengers,” MacLellan-Ruf said. According to her, in one instance, the assistant harbor master “had to move people off of the float because there were too many.”
On top of that, the harbor structures in general are wearing, according to Adam Philbrook. The assessments of the harbor area were taken before this year’s Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors weekend and before the annual Lobster Festival and it’s crate races.
For Rockland, the fee increase would prove to grant holders that the City is making the effort to find its own matching funds – needed first for the “crumbling” Fish Pier, then for the Public Landing.
Monday’s discussion, which lasted just under an hour, got a little heated between MacLellan-Ruf and Tom Peaco, director of the Pen Bay Chamber of Commerce. Peaco said he was all for infrastructure, but his current numbers suggest that the money toward city funding is already being generated.
“One thing that hasn’t come up once tonight is the benefit to businesses in Rockland and the local region,” he said.
According to him, September passengers brought $32,000 to the city. Another $45,000 is expected from the four remaining ships due in October.
Peaco used the recent September 13 visit by the Vision of the Sea as an example. Of the 1,985 passengers and approximately 800 crew members, 1,891 passengers and about 100 crew got off the ship, according to Peaco, who used his hand clicker to personally tally every person.
“That’s 95 percent of the passenger count that disembarked the ship into the City of Rockland,” he said, “that came into the area, spent money in the area, and supported our local businesses. Four hundred and eighty-six of those passengers boarded a bus for a short excursion. That’s 25 percent. The myth that everyone gets on a bus and leaves Rockland is simply not true.”
The shuttle bus, provided through contributions from local businesses, carried 250 people incapable of walking up the hill to Main Street and around the downtown area.
However, “Every time someone comes over the public landing, it is a cost to the city,” said MacLellan-Ruf. Bar Harbor, she said, is now contending with an increase in finances to the police, fire, public service, and waste-water management departments.
And, as Adam Philbrook added, cruise ships to Bar Harbor bring in only a small percentage of that town’s tourist population. Most drive there, and only 2.7 percent of visitors to Acadia National Park are from the ships.
About 10 years ago, the first large passenger vessel to request a secure facility in Rockland Harbor was a National Geographic vessel with about 160 passengers, according to Councilor Ed Glaser. The City charged them $1 per head. The next year the charge increased to $6 a head. The current $8 is approximately the same as Bar Harbor. Except, Rockland’s Harbor Management Commission has never been able to learn what Bar Harbor’s private dockage fees amount to, according to MacClellan-Ruf.
So what is an appropriate fee?
“If 10 is reasonable, why isn’t 12 reasonable? Why isn’t 25 reasonable? Why isn’t 50 reasonable?” Peaco said. “Where does it stop? There comes a point somewhere – none of us knows where that is – that we tip the scales in the other direction.”
At the end of the meeting, councilors planned to add the topic to an upcoming council agenda to start the process of voting.
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