WASHINGTON, D.C. — No one spoke against a bill to restrict the future expansion of Acadia National Park and to allow the harvesting of clams and worms in the park’s intertidal zone at a Nov. 15 hearing held by the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Federal Lands.
A new version of the bill, originally introduced in the House and Senate in January, was submitted earlier this month by Maine 2nd District Rep. Bruce Poliquin. An identical bill has been introduced by Sen. Angus King.
The bill would retroactively ratify Acadia’s annexation of the 1,441-acre Schoodic Woods property in 2015 while making clear that, except for minor boundary adjustments, no further expansion of the park is allowed. It would specify that the park boundaries established by a 1986 law are permanent and would repeal the sections of the 1919 and 1929 laws that the National Park Service (NPS) cited as justification of the 2015 expansion.
Poliquin testified at the subcommittee hearing in support of his bill. He noted that Acadia had expanded “without proper permission,” and he said that when a national park expands, “it takes taxable land off local tax rolls, which impairs our small towns. Acadia needs to live in harmony with its neighbors.”
Only a few subcommittee members spoke at the hearing, and all of their comments and questions were either supportive of the bill or neutral.
The bill seems to have both practical and ideological appeal for at least one member of the congressional panel.
Subcommittee Chairman Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said of the Acadia bill, “It results from one of the federal overreaches that we’ve seen all too much of over the past decade, where the will of Congress and the wishes of local residents were simply ignored.
“This bill would repair the broken trust between the federal government and the communities surrounding this national park. One of our objectives is to restore the federal government as a good neighbor to those communities that are impacted by federal lands, and hopefully we are moving back in that direction with this bill.”
Clams and worms
Another major provision of Poliquin’s bill would permit the harvesting of clams, worms and other “marine species” in the intertidal zone around the park. The NPS currently prohibits such harvesting; however, Acadia suspended enforcement last winter pending congressional action.
“Around Acadia, we have mud flats and clam flats where we harvest blood worms and sand worms,” Poliquin told the subcommittee. “They are little critters that fishermen around the world and in Maine love. It is a big part of our economy, and we have been doing this for 300 years.”
Passage of the bill, he said, would help “some of the hardest-working people in our country.”
That provision of the Acadia bill, said McClintock, is “consistent with another of this committee’s objectives, and that is to restore public access to the public lands.”
“We generally agree that we need to provide certainty for Maine’s clammers and wormers, who rely on harvesting to bring home a paycheck and put food on their tables. [This bill] guarantees that the community can continue to use these lands for traditional purposes without fear of harassment or interference.”
Subcommittee member Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) said the clam and worm harvesting provision of the bill would resolve “the unpredictable enforcement in the intertidal zone in and around the park. I’m a big proponent of protecting traditional uses of public lands.”
Seaweed harvesting ban
The Islander reported last week that the Acadia bill would not prohibit the harvesting of seaweed in the park’s intertidal zone. While that is technically correct, the current ban on such harvesting would remain in place because the bill does not include language to specifically allow it.
Sue Masica, acting deputy director for operations of the NPS, was asked if she is satisfied that the bill, as drafted, would exclude seaweed harvesting.
“It is my understanding those are not included,” she said.
Masica said the NPS supports the Acadia bill.
“The park service really strives to be a good neighbor with the communities that are around us and within us, as is the case in Acadia,” she said.
Acadia Disposal District
The bill that Poliquin and King have introduced includes several other provisions, including the payment of $350,000 by the Department of the Interior to the Acadia Disposal District (ADD) for “improving the management of the disposal and recycling of solid waste.”
The idea behind the payment is that Acadia should help offset the cost of solid waste management in the area. The ADD is made up of the towns of Mount Desert, Tremont, Trenton, Cranberry Isles and Frenchboro.
The ADD’s attorney, Tim Woodcock of the Bangor firm Eaton Peabody, testified at the subcommittee hearing in support of Poliquin’s bill.
However, he did not mention the provision that would benefit the ADD, and none of the subcommittee members commented on or asked questions about that part of the bill.