Bill seeks release of $350K: Acadia clamming dispute addressed

ACADIA NAT’L PARK — The Acadia Disposal District (ADD) will get $350,000 in federal funds to help with solid waste management on and around Mount Desert Island if a bill introduced last week by Maine 2nd District Rep. Bruce Poliquin becomes law.

The bill also would allow the commercial as well as recreational digging of clams and worms in the intertidal zone adjacent to national park property.

Those are among several provisions of the bill, H.R. 6218, that Poliquin introduced “to clarify the boundary of Acadia National Park and for other purposes.”

Similar to a bill introduced in the Senate earlier this year by Maine Sen. Angus King, Poliquin’s bill would “confirm” Acadia’s controversial annexation of 1,441 acres of donated land on the Schoodic Peninsula, including Schoodic Woods Campground. It would prohibit any future expansion of the park beyond the boundary established by Congress in 1986.

And it would remove some restrictions on former park property in Tremont.

Regional waste disposal

That 1986 act also acknowledged that Acadia 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 in the village of Town Hill to the town of Bar Harbor for the purpose of building a regional solid waste transfer station. It also provided that the Department of the Interior would contribute 50 percent, up to $350,000, toward the cost of building such a facility.

But it became clear a number of years ago that for several reasons, the Town Hill site was unsuitable for a transfer station. In August, ADD Chairman Tony Smith wrote to Poliquin asking him to include in his Acadia boundary bill the removal of restrictions on the use of money authorized for solid waste management.

A section of his bill would have the Department of the Interior give “$350,000 to a regional consortium established by law for the purpose of improving the management of the disposal and recycling of solid waste and composed of municipalities on as well as near Mount Desert Island.”

The consortium the bill refers to is the ADD, whose members are the towns of Mount Desert, Tremont, Trenton, Cranberry Isles and Frenchboro.

The ADD has continued to search for sites both on and near MDI that might be suitable for development of a regional transfer station.

Smith, who also is Mount Desert’s public works director, said Monday that if Congress approves the payment of funds to the ADD, “we would put them in an escrow account for the time being and work within the ADD and directly with the member towns to identify the best possible uses for them.”

Poliquin’s bill does not address the transfer of ownership of the 55-acre parcel in Town Hill from the National Park Service to the town of Bar Harbor.

Clamming and worming

Poliquin’s bill does not specifically mention clamming and worming in Acadia’s intertidal zone.

But a press release from his office said the bill is intended to resolve disputes between “clam and worm harvesters, many of whose families have worked the flats in Acadia for generations, … and the National Park Service.”

People engaged in those activities have claimed 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 claims ownership of coastal lands through the intertidal zone to the mean low water mark.

The dispute came to a head last fall when a park ranger on the Schoodic Peninsula ordered a clam digger to dump out his day’s work. There were two subsequent incidents in which rangers confronted diggers.

The press release from Poliquin’s office said the disputes were caused by “unpredictable enforcement in the intertidal zone in and around the park that is threatening [the clammers’ and wormers’] livelihoods.”

“My bill is a comprehensive solution to these recent disputes that will help make sure our traditional uses of the intertidal zone are protected and these harvesters’ rights upheld,” Poliquin said.

Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider told the park’s advisory commission last month that his staff was working with both the National Park Service’s solicitor’s office and the Maine Department of Marine Resources to try to resolve the question of jurisdiction. But he acknowledged that “an act of Congress may be required.”

Chris Rector, regional representative for King, indicated at the Advisory Commission meeting that the senator likely would support legislation to preserve the “traditional use” of the intertidal zone.

Jackie Davidson, chairman of the Acadia Advisory Commission, said Monday that at that same meeting, “Several commission members indicated that they were very open to upholding the traditional method of harvesting clams and worms.”

Schneider has said that until the issue is resolved, the park will not enforce the ban on clam and worm harvesting in the intertidal zone.

Tremont School

Poliquin’s bill, like King’s, also would amend the so-called “reverter clause” in the deed to the Tremont Consolidated School.

In 1950, land for construction of the school was transferred from Acadia to the town of Tremont. The deed provided that if the land were no longer to be used for “school purposes,” it would revert to Acadia.

The new bills would require only that the land shall remain in public ownership and be used for “recreational, educational or similar public purposes.”

Both the Poliquin and King bills would make permanent the Acadia Advisory Commission, the 16-member citizens’ panel that serves as a liaison between park officials and its neighboring communities.

Poliquin’s bill has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Davidson, the Acadia Advisory Commission chairman, said. “We are very appreciative of the work that Rep. Poliquin and his staff are doing to advance the effort to annex the gift of the [Schoodic] acreage.” She noted that the Advisory Commission had strongly urged that legislation be introduced to accept the gift of land and to clarify that no future annexation could occur without congressional action.

Asked to comment on Poliquin’s bill, Acadia spokesman John Kelly said park officials do not comment on pending legislation.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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