ROCKLAND — The Rockland City Council may schedule a November advisory referendum on whether to impose a ban on large cruise ships.

Councilors said they want to gauge public sentiment after a group of residents on Monday presented a petition calling for regulations on large cruise ships. A dozen speakers called for a moratorium, saying the ban was needed to protect the character of the community.

The group unfurled pages of the petition across the City Council chamber to demonstrate the number of people who signed the online survey asking the city to enact regulations on larger cruise ships. David Wylie, of Rockland, said 80 Rockland residents signed the petition and there were 752 total signatures from people around the country and world.

The cruise ship issue was not on the council’s agenda but residents turned out, asking councilors to impose an immediate moratorium.

Amy Files of Rockland asked the City Council to direct the staff to stop any further negotiations with large cruise ships for visits in subsequent years until the impact of these visits is assessed.

Tom O’Donovan of Harbor Square Gallery said there is so much to feel good about in Rockland since he bought his building and opened his business in 1995. Large cruise ships provide no benefit and will have an adverse impact on the community, O’Donovan said.

He said the mega cruise ships result in a race to the bottom for businesses such as trivial gift shops. He said in places he has been at around the world, mega cruise ships are a disaster for communities.

The World, a floating condo complex, visited Rockland in 2012. Here it is moored near the Rockland Breadkwater Light causeway and shrouded by fog and rain. A group of residents has asked the Rockland City Council to ban the largest cruise ships from the harbor. Staff photo by Gordon Chibroski

Rosemary Willson of Rockland said the sheer size of the mega cruise ships is out of proportion to the natural beauty of Rockland. These ships damage the environment, she claimed, by spewing exhausts and dumping wastes in the ocean.

Beth Fowlie, owner of 410 Main St., said the larger cruise ships have a huge effect on the culture of the community.

Sara Wylie of Rockland said a moratorium on cruise ships of more than 250 passengers was needed because otherwise there could be a negative effect on the character of the authentic, small-town harbor community of Rockland.

Former Mayor Louise MacLellan-Ruf said a moratorium should not be confused with a ban on cruise ships. She said the smaller, boutique cruise ships are a perfect fit for Rockland. MacLellan-Ruf said there have been discussions about needing regulations on cruise ships for 11 years, but the council has not held a community-wide discussion on imposing regulations.

She said the council’s recent decision to call for a new harbor management plan is needed, but would delay action on regulating cruise ships for another two years.

The city’s waterfront facilities are not able to handle the large crowds from the mega cruise ships, she said.

One person who spoke out for all cruise ships was Lynn Archer of the Brass Compass cafe. She said she felt like a salmon swimming against the current.

Rockland is poised for an economic boom that can be fueled by all sources of tourism, including the larger cruise ships, Archer said.

The Harbor Management Commission has expressed opposition to larger cruise ships for more than a decade while business groups have voiced support for the visits which bring in large number of visitors on the days the vessels are in port.

There are agreements for nine large cruise ship visits in 2018 and two in 2019.

At the end of Monday evening’s meeting, Councilor Ed Glaser suggested the advisory referendum, so that the city would know the sentiment of the public, pointing out that the council should not just act on requests from an organized effort for a turnout at a meeting.

He pointed out that many of the signatures on the petition were not from Rockland residents.

Mayor Valli Geiger said the city could have a series of meetings leading up to the November vote.

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