ELLSWORTH — Legislation to confirm Acadia National Park’s annexation of 1,441 acres on the Schoodic Peninsula, including the Schoodic Woods Campground, is being introduced in the U.S. Senate and House this week.
Maine U.S. Sen. Angus King and 2nd District Rep. Bruce Poliquin announced at a press conference here Monday that they would introduce identical bills, which include all of the provisions in the separate bills that the two lawmakers introduced last year. Those bills died because they weren’t voted on before Congress adjourned in December.
Like the original bills, the new one would resolve the question of whether the National Park Service acted legally in extending Acadia’s Schoodic boundary without congressional approval. The bill also would make clear that no further expansion of the park could occur beyond the boundaries established by Congress in 1986.
Clamming and worming
The new bills also would affirm the right of clam and worm harvesters to dig in the intertidal zone adjacent to Acadia National Park.
People involved in those activities have claimed that they already have that right because of Maine’s colonial-era “public trust doctrine,” which allows public use of property between the mean high-water and low-water marks. But the National Park Service has claimed ownership of the intertidal zone.
The dispute came to a head a year-and-a-half ago when a park ranger on the Schoodic Peninsula order a clam digger to dump out his day’s harvest. There were two subsequent incidents in which rangers confronted diggers.
Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider said last fall that the park would suspend enforcement of the ban on clam and marine worm harvesting in the intertidal zone until the issue was resolved.
In a statement released Monday, Poliquin said, “For generations, Maine families have been harvesting and working the flats in the intertidal zone in Acadia, and it is critical that their right to use the flats – providing for their livelihoods and businesses – is protected.”
King said, “Washington may not understand it, but in Maine there is a time-honored tradition of open access to tidal land, and that tradition has allowed Maine harvesters to work the flats of the intertidal zone at Acadia for nearly 100 years.”
The bills that King and Poliquin are introducing also would amend the so-called “reverter clause” in the deed to land under the Tremont Consolidated School.
In 1950, Acadia transferred a parcel of land to the town of Tremont for construction of the school. The deed provided that if, at any time, the land were no longer used for “school purposes,” it would revert to Acadia.
The bills now going to Congress state that the property doesn’t have to be used strictly for school purposes but “shall remain in public ownership for recreational, educational or similar public purposes.”
Waste disposal funds
The 1986 law establishing Acadia’s permanent boundary also acknowledged that the park should contribute to the management of Mount Desert Island’s solid waste stream. It directed the National Park Service to convey a 55-acre parcel of land in the village of Town Hill to the town of Bar Harbor for a regional solid waste transfer station. The law also provided that the Department of the Interior would contribute 50 percent, up to $350,000, toward the cost of building the facility.
But it became clear many years ago that the Town Hill site was unsuitable for a transfer station.
Last August, Tony Smith, chairman of the Acadia Disposal District (ADD), asked Poliquin to include in his Acadia boundary bill the removal of restrictions on the use of money authorized for solid waste management.
The bills that Poliquin and King are introducing would have the Department of the Interior give the ADD $350,000 “for the purpose of improving the management of the disposal and recycling of solid waste” on and near Mount Desert Island.
Finally, the lawmakers’ bills would make permanent the Acadia Advisory Commission, the 16-member citizen panel that serves as a liaison between the park and its neighboring communities.
King said at Monday’s press conference that he believes both Maine U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree support the Acadia boundary legislation and that it has a good chance of passing.
“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” King said. “I think this is something we can move on quickly in the new Congress.”
Poliquin said he had discussed the legislation with Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana, who is President Trump’s nominee for secretary of the interior, and that Zinke supports it.
Reporter Stephen Rappaport contributed to this story.