PEAKS ISLAND — For nine years, I’ve lived on Peaks Island, a short ferry ride off the coast of Portland. The ferry is operated by Casco Bay Island Transit District, also known as Casco Bay Lines. It is a lifeline for us.

I am a full-time resident, one of about 800. Beginning in April, the seasonal residents slowly begin to return and by summer, the population has swelled by approximately 4,000. Summers on the island have a unique vibe to them – unless you’re trying to take the ferry to town, to drive or, in some instances, to walk. At 1.1 square miles, we are a small island. In summer, it is not so much the idyllic place one would imagine.

Portland is a vibrant city with world-class restaurants and breweries, wonderful shopping and a working waterfront. According to the transit district, annual ridership to Peaks Island has increased by almost 70,000 over the last five years, in large part because of the increase in tourism in Portland and advertising by Casco Bay Lines and others. And, on a sunny day, upward of 3,000 of these visitors take the ferry to Peaks Island.

Passengers disembark the ferry to Peaks Island at the bottom of Welch Street, which is narrow and cascades downhill to the water. There’s a small rotary where passengers can be picked up and dropped off, but unless you arrive extra early, you can’t get to it. Cars coming off the boat are trying to navigate uphill, through hundreds of people waiting to board the ferry and cars waiting to get on the boat. While all this is going on, passengers who just got off the boat are trying to make it up the hill. And don’t forget the visitors who are picking up one of the up to 30 golf carts that cruise the streets. Sound chaotic? It is!

If you’re disabled, a senior citizen or a family with small children wanting to take the ferry, the task of navigating Welch Street is daunting, if not impossible, and outright unsafe. And if you try to leave the island on a Sunday, be prepared for the worst of it.

A few years ago, Casco Bay Lines secured grant monies to purchase a new ferry. While the new boat’s design is still in the planning stages, there is much talk about increasing its passenger capacity by 200.Sound like smart planning? Not so fast. We have safety, health and infrastructure issues on the island, and without addressing the current situation, an increase to the ferry passenger capacity will only make things worse. In a recent Peaks Island Council survey, 70 percent of residents said they are opposed to increasing the passenger capacity of the new vessel, and almost 90 percent of residents are concerned about safety and infrastructure issues.

We have two public restrooms, both near Welch Street, leaving the rest of the island without facilities. Only two restrooms to service upward of 3,000 visitors each day! Sound impossible? It is – just ask island residents who have witnessed visitors urinating and defecating around the island and even in people’s yards.

The city of Portland doesn’t have a vote when it comes to the design of the new ferry; however, the city is responsible for the safety and well-being of both visitors and residents. Past the boat landing on Welch Street, the Casco Bay Island Transit District board, which votes on the design of the new boat, has little responsibility for the health and welfare of the island, its visitors and residents. Given the current situation, if CBITD moves forward with an increase in passenger capacity without studying and addressing long-term viability of tourism on Peaks, the island will continue to suffer.

Google “overtourism” – it’s real, and it causes short- and long-term problems in areas all around the world. In the end, we all want to preserve the island’s ecosystem, for the health of its residents (both physical and mental) and to ensure that it is a welcoming safe place for its visitors for many years to come.


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