CAPE ELIZABETH — Town councilors Monday night imposed a fee for commercial buses and trolleys at Fort Williams, and banned the sale and use of fireworks.
After several meetings and workshops, public hearings and referendum votes – and over the objections of tour operators who warned Monday that the fees would drive away tourists – the Town Council voted 5-2 to institute the bus and trolley fees next year.
Chairman David Sherman and Councilor Anne Swift-Kayatta opposed the fees.
The fee is $40 per visit for tour buses and $1,500 per season for trolleys. The fee structure was recommended by the Fort Williams Advisory Commission in June, and will not apply to educational or camp buses and nonprofit organizations.
Of the eleven people who spoke on the fee proposal, six were in favor of charging the buses and five were opposed.
Roger Rioux of Sherwood Forest said he supports bus fees because taxpayers have invested a lot in the park over the years, and the bus and trolley companies make money from their visits.
Joe Edgar of Robinhood Road said he voted against parking fees for private vehicles in a past referendum “because (the fort) should be shared with our neighbors.”
“But tour busing is a commercial situation and a commercial endeavor and those that use those services expect to pay,” he said. “This is not going to be a hardship for those who ride on those buses; it is probably a dollar or less.”
While the recommendation to the council estimated raising nearly $36,000 from the fees, Jeanne McGurn, of the Maine Tour Connection in South Portland, and Gregg Isherwood, owner of Custom Coach & Limousine, disagreed.
Isherwood said tour operators cannot continuously push fees on their passengers. Many tour companies have set their prices for the 2012 season and will be displeased to have to pay $40 when they arrive at the park, he said.
“We are going to end up eating that fee on a lot of these trips,” he said. “These figures you have of $35,000 in gross revenues, you’re not going to see that. These numbers will fall in half if these fees go in place.”
The visit to Portland Head Light is an attraction, not a destination for cruise ship passengers, he said.
“The cruise ship passengers don’t really need it,” he said. “They see Portland Headlight from the water going in and going out. We can eliminate that.”
McGurn called the fees discriminatory.
“You are going to drive away more people than you can bring in by imposing these fees,” she said.
But Councilors Jessica Sullivan, Frank Governali, Caitlin Jordan, Sara Lennon and James Walsh voted in favor of the fees.
Governali said generating revenues is necessary to support the park, and the burden “cannot be supported entirely by the Cape Elizabeth taxpayers.”
Walsh said the bus and trolley companies have not accepted their “moral obligation” to work with the town on this issue.
“This entire enterprise has been on the backs of taxpayers in Cape Elizabeth and I just believe that there’s got to be some skin in the game,” he said. “They are taking this incredible asset that is world known and they are selling tours with that effort that we’ve all expended money on for years, and they going to the bank with it. I believe very strongly that we need a piece of that to come back to us.”
Unlike the Fort Williams fee vote, the ban on the use and sale of consumer fireworks was unanimous.
Walsh noted that the state’s new law allowing consumer fireworks will go into effect in January, and many surrounding communities have established ordinances similar to Cape’s.
“We think this (ordinance) is a good representation of the discussions we’ve had and what we consider best practice,” Walsh said.
South Portland, Portland, Falmouth, Freeport and North Yarmouth have prohibited the sale and use of fireworks. Gray and Westbrook have allowed it and Cumberland, Yarmouth, Scarborough, Windham and Gorham have decisions pending.
The ban makes it illegal to use or sell, or possess with the intent of using or selling, consumer fireworks in town. Violators would be subject to fines.
The rules do not apply to people who hold state- or town-issued fireworks display permits.
In other business, after months of trying to find a balance between homeowners, farmers, businesses and open space needs, the council tabled a proposal that would regulate how and where resident may keep roosters and chickens.
Rooster noise regulations have has been debated by the council, the Planning Board, and most recently the Ordinance Committee. But Walsh, a member of the committee, said the draft they designed was more aggressive than it was intended to be.
The discussion began in 2010, when some residents complained about noise from a rooster being kept nearby . The Planning Board held workshops and public hearings, and ultimately recommended roosters be regulated through a nuisance ordinance, rather than through zoning.
The latest proposal would add chickens and roosters to the list of animals regulated in the animal control section of the ordinance and would prohibit residents from allowing their animals to roam on public property or private property without permission of the property owner. A new proposed paragraph also prohibits owners from allowing their animals to make noises loud enough to disturb neighbors.
Councilors unanimously agreed to table the discussion to a future workshop.