Bar Harbor residents have authorized the town to purchase a vacant ferry terminal that has been at the center of the debate over the future of cruise tourism in the Acadia region.

Tuesday’s overwhelming 1,380-213 vote gives the green light for the town to purchase the 4.5-acre property from the state Department of Transportation for $3.5 million, a move that prevents it from being offered on the open market and possibly being developed into a cruise ship pier.

Town officials originally wanted to purchase the former Marine Atlantic terminal – completed in 1954 to serve the ferry to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia – in order to build a large cruise ship pier there, a longstanding request of the major cruise lines.

But as cruise ship traffic doubled over the past decade, it met public resistance to investing in a plan that might substantially increase cruise ship traffic. A 40-member citizens’ committee assembled to study the issue last year concluded townspeople did not want a cruise ship pier, but recommended the property be purchased to facilitate public access, with a marina and possibly a landing for cruise ship tenders, to reduce passenger congestion on the downtown waterfront.

Last month the town’s marine terminal consultants, Bemello Ajamil, delivered a business plan with three scenarios for the terminal property: one focused on a marina and boat ramp; the second adding cruise ship tendering; and a third adding a ferry terminal for The Cat, whose owners are considering moving their Nova Scotia service there from Portland. Their 20-year profit-and-loss estimates suggest the latter two would make money if the facility captured at least 34 percent to 40 percent of the current flow of cruise passengers.

The property is located on Eden Street, a mile and a half northwest of the town center.

Cruise ship tourism has been growing in Maine, creating tensions in many communities and prompting moratoriums against ship passenger landings in several towns neighboring Bar Harbor.

Colin Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at:

[email protected]