ACADIA NAT’L PARK — Maine U.S. Sen. Angus King and 2nd District Rep. Bruce Poliquin visited Acadia last Thursday to learn about the park’s infrastructure needs and to tout bills now making their way through Congress that would provide $6.5 billion over the next five years for facilities projects throughout the National Park Service (NPS).
Because of inadequate funding over the years, there is now an $11.6 billion backlog of deferred maintenance and construction projects in parks nationwide, according to the NPS. The figure for Acadia is $60 million.
The two members of Congress, along with Dan Smith, Acting Director of the NPS, were given a tour of Acadia’s maintenance garage at park headquarters, which was built in the 1960s. Park officials have said replacing it is their top infrastructure priority.
“Five years ago the building was determined to be structurally inefficient for the weather here,” Keith Johnston, Acadia’s chief of facilities maintenance, said in July. “It has never been code compliant. It’s not ADA accessible. The walls are turning back to sand.”
The building also is “undersized for our needs today,” Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider told the federal officials, local dignitaries and members of the press gathered in front of the maintenance garage last Thursday.
Referring to the garage and some other facilities in the park, Schneider said, “They have deteriorated to a point where it just no longer makes sense to invest in [repairing] them. It’s time to start over.”
Asked how much it would cost to build a new, larger maintenance facility, Schneider said park officials are in the process of updating the cost estimate. Johnston said in July that a preliminary estimate was $20 million.
He said the park’s second highest infrastructure priority is replacement of a 70-year-old overhead power line in the Schoodic Peninsula section of the park. The estimated cost of that is about $1.2 million.
Two nearly identical bills that would provide $1.3 billion to the NPS for repair and construction projects in each of the next five years have strong bi-partisan support in both houses of Congress, as well as from key officials of the Trump administration, King and Poliquin said.
Once the two bills, one in the House and one in the Senate, are passed, they would be merged into a single bill for a vote in each chamber.
“I don’t see any reason why it can’t be done by the end of the year,” King said. “I believe the stars are aligning right now for the passage of this bill. And it could be one of the most significant in the recent history of the national park system.”
“This bill makes so much sense,” NPS Acting Director Smith agreed.
Rep. Poliquin called Acadia “an economic engine for this part of the state” and said it is essential that it be properly maintained.
“This is about doing what is right for our families, for our state, for those that depend on the park for their employment and well-being,” Poliquin said. “This place just makes your heart sing. It’s our responsibility to keep it going.”
The NPS infrastructure funding bills call for the money to come from fees the government collects for such things as mineral, oil and gas extraction on federal lands.
“I think it’s a very appropriate use of those funds to, in effect, invest them back into the national parks to benefit all Americans, who own the lands that are generating the fees,” King said.
Smith was asked how the NPS would prioritize the allocation of funds across the 417 national parks, monuments, historic sites and battlefields.
“Obviously, there are huge needs in the larger parks, where the visitation is like it is in Acadia,” Smith said. “But we’re going to make sure we take care of the other parks that maybe aren’t as large, but maybe have a $100,000 or $500,000 project that would make them whole.”
King joked that he thought the allocation of funds should be prioritized alphabetically. That would place Acadia second in line behind Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park in Kentucky.
Smith laughed and said, “Zion wouldn’t want to hear that.”
Schneider noted that, in addition to federal funding, Acadia receives support from private organizations and individuals.
“Friends of Acadia has made huge investments in preserving our trails and carriage roads,” he said. “But donors expect the federal government to do its fair share. And it’s clear that donors are not likely to invest in a maintenance building.”