ACADIA NAT’L PARK — Comments from individuals about the park’s draft transportation plan that are submitted online won’t be available to the public.
The 60-day period for public comment on the park’s “preferred alternative” plan ends June 26. Then Acadia officials will group comments into what they’re calling “statements of concern,” such as what people think of the proposed reservation system for entering certain areas of the park during the peak visitor season.
Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider told the Acadia Advisory Commission last week that the comments will be analyzed and grouped during July and August.
“Then we will digest those comments and make whatever adjustments (seem appropriate) to the final preferred alternative,” he said. “It’s through the response to comments that the plan will get tweaked a little bit along the way.”
He said the goal is to finalize the transportation plan by early next year.
“There will still be many questions to be addressed regarding implementation of the plan,” Schneider said. “There will be many opportunities for engagement with communities and our stakeholders as we begin to implement whatever is ultimately selected.”
He said implementation of most parts of the plan would not begin until at least 2020.
The public still has nearly two weeks to submit comments on the draft transportation plan, either by mail or online at go.nps.gov/AcadiaPlan.
Schneider told the Advisory Commission that the public likely wouldn’t have access to the comments. Pressed by Advisory Commission members on the reason for that, he said, “I don’t make these decisions. In the past, if you submitted a public comment, it was releasable. But there’s maybe a change of thinking under the [federal] Privacy Act that makes it not releasable. So, I have to do what I’m told on this one.”
Christie Anastasia, the park’s public affairs specialist, said in an email response to questions from the Islander that the system by which people can submit their comments online, called “PEPC,” is a “Privacy Act system of records.”
“We can’t release a record unless we are authorized to do so,” she said. “Since the PEPC information isn’t currently authorized … it could be considered a violation of the Privacy Act to release any PEPC comments.
“This covers not just personally identifying information [such as name and email address], but any record entered into a system of records, which includes the comments themselves,” Anastasia said.
“For now, we should publish only paraphrased concern statements and responses rather than quotes/text of comments themselves. This doesn’t apply to comments from businesses, organizations [or] government agencies, only individuals.”
Advisory Commission member Ben Emory said at last week’s meeting, “I believe public comment on the Acadia National Park transportation plan should be public. It would never occur to me in making comments, if I was sitting there typing them in, that they wouldn’t be public.”
By a vote of 10-0, the commission passed his motion “to take the position that it favors public comments on the draft transportation plan being available to the public.”
The Advisory Commission is composed of one member each from 10 area towns plus three members appointed by Maine’s governor and three by the secretary of the interior.