File photo from 2016 of a tender ferrying passengers back to the cruise ship Crystal Serenity as it sits anchored off Bar Harbor in Frenchman Bay. Credit: Bill Trotter

BAR HARBOR, Maine — An anchor institution rarely involved in town politics opposes placing a cruise-ship pier at a former ferry terminal the town intends to buy.

Speaking out on a local issue for the first time in his seven-year tenure, College of the Atlantic President Darron Collins told the town council on Tuesday that a cruise ship pier at 121 Eden St. “will make it enormously difficult for me to run this institution successfully.”

Cruise ship visits are Mount Desert Island’s biggest issue, with other island towns enacting ship bans to control tourist traffic. Tourist visits to Acadia National Park add millions to the economy and help MDI be the state’s top tourist attraction, but some residents contend that the island is becoming overcrowded.

As a 45-year-old nonprofit, the 350-student College of the Atlantic, which employs 121 staff, avoids taking stands on local issues. Its leaders prefer it serve as an intellectual resource and recognize the role cruise ships have in the Bar Harbor economy, Collins said, but the terminal being next door to the college makes silence untenable.

“Enormous vessels docked right in our front yard will destroy our 38-acre campus,” Collins told councilors during a meeting on Tuesday.

Cruise ships, Collins said, are pollutants, particularly to a school dedicated to the study of human ecology. For the second straight year, College of the Atlantic is ranked as America’s greenest college by the Sierra Club’s Cool Schools ranking and The Princeton Review.

Collins pledged the university’s aid Wednesday to help the town turn the facility into a multi-use marina and to continue assisting MDI towns as it has.

A marina is what councilors say they hope to create at the terminal, but some residents question whether other council actions, including backing a state bill that would pave the way to creating a port authority, signal support for a pier.

Bar Harbor was visited by 166 cruise ships in 2017 and expects 180 ship visits this year once the season starts on April 20. Acadia had a record 3.5 million visitors last year, of which cruise ship visitors were a fraction. Exact counts of cruise ship visitors are unavailable.

The town has hired a consultant to help integrate the terminal into town plans. Residents will have the final say on what is done with the terminal when they vote in June on whether to bond the $3.5 million purchase.

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