ACADIA NATIONAL PARK — Three members of Maine’s congressional delegation have asked the director of the National Park Service (NPS) to cite the legal basis for the recent 1,441-acre expansion of Acadia National Park on the Schoodic Peninsula.
In a letter dated Jan. 7 that also notes broad support for Schoodic Woods being protected by the park, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and 2nd District Congressman Bruce Poliquin asked NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis to “promptly provide us with a complete copy of the Office of the Solicitor’s opinion supporting such a [boundary] adjustment.”
Meanwhile, the NPS has not yet responded to the Mount Desert Islander’s request, filed under the Federal Freedom of Information Act, for the same legal opinion that the members of Congress are requesting, as well as for all emails and other correspondence among NPS personnel related to the Schoodic acquisition.
The NPS’s notice of the boundary change was published in the Federal Register on Nov. 17, 2015.
The NPS has said the land acquisition, which includes the new Schoodic Woods Campground, is authorized by a 1929 law. However, the three members of Congress note in their letter that numerous interested parties in the Acadia area have expressed “significant concerns with the manner in which Acadia’s boundary is being expanded and specifically with the authority that the NPS has cited.”
A number of local government officials, as well as members of the Acadia Advisory Commission, believe that a 1986 law establishing the park’s “permanent boundary” effectively repealed the provision of the 1929 law that the NPS has cited as justification for the Schoodic expansion. They maintain that the park can be expanded only by congressional action.
The three members of Congress included in their letter to Jarvis an excerpt of testimony given by then-U.S. Sen. William Cohen of Maine before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in July 1985 in support of the permanent boundary bill.
“It will resolve a great deal of uncertainty on the part of both the Park Service and the towns of Mount Desert Island and the surrounding mainland,” Cohen said.
The members of Congress also noted in their letter that in May 1986, then-Rep. John McKernan of Maine, who later became governor, spoke on the floor of the U.S. House about the need for a permanent park boundary.
King, Collins and Poliquin told Jarvis, “We hope to resolve this issue quickly to ensure that this transfer [of property] was carried out with proper legal authority and, if not, to ensure that proper steps can be taken to rectify this situation as soon as possible.”
The lawmakers noted in their letter that the Acadia Advisory Commission, made up of representatives from the park’s neighboring communities, strongly supports the acquisition of the Schoodic Woods land.
“While many Mount Desert Island residents also support the acquisition, … they want to be certain the law is followed and that this action by NPS is not precedent setting.”
Unless the question of the legality of the park’s acquisition of the Schoodic land is resolved in the next two weeks, it likely will be a topic of discussion when the Acadia Advisory Commission meets Feb. 1. Commission members live in and represent the park’s neighboring towns.
On Nov. 25, the Islander submitted an FOIA request to the NPS for material related to the decision to acquire the Schoodic property, including the legal opinion that the members of Congress have now requested.
The NPS acknowledged receipt of the Islander’s request Dec. 1.
On Dec. 18, Charis Wilson, the NPS’s FOIA officer, said in an email to the Islander, “We expect to issue our determination response to you by January 12, 2016. If you do not receive our response by that date, you may consider your request administratively denied and may file an appeal.”
Jan. 12 came and went without a response. However, Mike Madell, Acadia’s acting superintendent, said Wednesday that the NPS’s Northeast Regional Office in Philadelphia is sending a response to the Islander by U.S. Mail.