ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

New players in fee hike debate



BAR HARBOR — The Philadelphia-based Pew Charitable Trust is weighing in on the National Park Service proposal to increase visitor fees at Acadia and other parks, seeking the support of the Town Council in opposing the increase and working with the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce to get the word out about the issue.

Under the plan announced in October, the price of Acadia entrance passes that are good for up to seven days would go from $25 to $70 for private, noncommercial vehicles and their occupants, from $20 to $50 for motorcycles and from $12 to $30 for people walking or biking in the park. The price of an Acadia annual pass would increase from $50 to $75.

The higher fees for 17 of America’s most visited parks, the announcement said, would generate “badly needed revenue for improvements to the aging infrastructure of the national parks.” The NPS had a total of $11 billion in deferred maintenance in 2016, $71 million of which is at Acadia.

The Bar Harbor Town Council voted on Dec. 7 to accept a resolution written by Pew that supports only “reasonable” rate increases. More than 100 other towns have passed the resolution, a Pew representative said. No other Mount Desert Island towns have yet been approached by Pew.

“I would rather not see an increase, but the people I’ve talked to wouldn’t be opposed to a fee increase coupled with a one-day or three-day pass,” Councilor Matt Hochman said. “There might be an untapped revenue source of people who don’t pay for passes and risk being caught.”

Six of the seven town councilors voted to support the resolution. Councilor Erin Early Ward abstained from voting on the resolution, saying the council should not vote on this without input from the public.

Kathie Summers-Grice, who represented Pew at the Town Council meeting, said the organization is not recommending any specific course of action, but advocating for a thoughtful conversation in Congress.

“Pew wanted to highlight the problem and provide a [plan for a] reliable funding stream for the parks,” Summers-Grice said. “It is Pew’s view that this is a puzzle [and] we believe there is an equation and a number of measured options that [does not] include an increase away across the board.”

The organization has been vocal about encouraging sufficient funding for maintenance in the parks, even before the fee hike was announced, with its national “Restore America’s Parks” campaign.

“They have not come out and said ‘you need to do x, y and z,’” Summers-Grice said. “They [want to look at] options that are available.”

In July, before the fee increase was proposed, Pew commissioned a study from the Waltham, Mass.-based Cadmus Group to examine the economic impact of increased funding to address deferred maintenance.

This week, the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce sent a press release calling attention to the Cadmus report. According to the report, Maine would stand to gain about 700 jobs if the maintenance backlog were fully funded. The methodology did not include any local economic information; the study used NPS data on deferred maintenance and census data.

Chamber director Martha Searchfield said the chamber’s position on fee increases and deferred maintenance closely aligns with Pew’s.

“The Pew/Cadmus report merely provides yet another reason for us to advocate that Congress provide stable funding that addresses the maintenance backlog at our parks,” the press release said, “and ask the administration to take a further look at all the options available and come back with a more measured approach to increasing revenues that will continue to enable future generations the opportunity to enjoy and appreciate for the next 100 years what we all have for the last 100 years.”

The public may comment on the proposed peak-season fee hikes until Dec. 22 at parkplanning.nps.gov/proposedpeakseasonfeerates.

 

 

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