E-bike order may be challenged

BAR HARBOR — Local opponents of a new rule that has opened Acadia’s carriage roads to some categories of e-bikes may have a new ally.

They received an email from Friends of Acadia (FOA) last week, offering to put them in contact with a national nonprofit organization that may sue the Department of the Interior over the directive that came from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt in August.

“When the Department of the Interior e-bike policy was announced, Friends of Acadia was contacted by many concerned citizens and organizations on both sides of the issue,” FOA Conservation Director Stephanie Clement said in an email to the Islander.

“We reached out to citizens who had contacted us in opposition to e-bikes on the carriage roads to let them know of the possibility to participate in potential legal action. FOA is not planning to engage in any legal action.”

The email to e-bike opponents did not name the national nonprofit organization thought to be considering legal action.

“I’m not able to comment on another organization’s possible legal actions,” Clement wrote, “nor do we know the status.”

Several national conservation organizations and a public employee advocacy group have spoken out against Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s Aug. 29 order to allow e-bikes on public lands, and a related Aug. 30 policy memorandum issued by Acting National Park Service (NPS) Director Dan Smith.

The nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association wrote in a Sept. 26 press release, “This policy undermines the National Park Service’s own management regulations that require analysis of new uses in parks and processes that allow for public input.”

According to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), in addition to lack of public input, the new policy also lacked environmental analysis required for such changes. The organization wrote in a Sept. 16 press release that Acting NPS Director Smith got around such requirements by “declaring the use of e-bikes to be a ‘minor change’… regardless of actual impacts” to the environment.

The organization also argued that Smith, as acting director, lacked the authority to issue the order.

“PEER is prepared to go to court to ensure that e-bikes stay off any park trail where they were previously not allowed,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse.

The Wilderness Society, American Hiking Society, Natural Resources Council of Maine and more than 50 other national and regional organizations have come out against allowing e-bikes on non-motorized trails on public lands.

Those organizations sent a letter to USDA Forest Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management officials on July 26 in opposition to the order before it was announced.

In keeping with directives from the Department of the Interior and National Park Service, Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider announced in September that the park would allow some categories of e-bikes on the carriage roads.

“I know this may be a big change for folks personally and professionally,” he wrote in a Sept. 26 email to park staff. “There are strong, valid opinions on all sides of the issue.”

E-bikes were previously banned from the carriage roads except for riders with disabilities. The carriage roads were donated to the park by philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., with the caveat that they would always be closed to motorized vehicles.

Becky Pritchard
Former Islander reporter Becky Pritchard covered the town of Bar Harbor and was a park ranger in Acadia for six seasons.
Becky Pritchard

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