ACADIA NATIONAL PARK — The Acadia Advisory Commission voted Monday to ask Maine’s members of Congress to introduce a bill authorizing the park to annex 1,441 acres on the Schoodic Peninsula. They also urged that any future expansions would specifically require congressional action.
Members of the park’s citizens’ advisory panel stressed that they favor the park’s annexation of the Schoodic Woods Campground and surrounding property. But they believe the National Park Service (NPS) overstepped its authority in extending the boundary last fall without congressional approval. And they strongly disagreed with an opinion by the NPS solicitors’ office, issued two years ago, that the boundary actually was extended when the park accepted an easement on the Schoodic property in 2013.
Carol Woodcock, state office representative for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, told the Advisory Commission, “There are lawyers that do not agree with the solicitor’s opinion, many aspects of it. We are concerned that the opinion is not accurate.”
Last summer, Schoodic Woods LLC, which developed the campground, gave the property to the National Park Foundation with the understanding that ownership would be transferred to Acadia. The deed transfer occurred in December.
Woodcock said that if it turns out the transfer was not legal because Congress didn’t approve it, “there is a real problem here.”
“That means the donor still owns the property … and that’s a liability concern and all kinds of issues. So, there is some urgency here, if that is in fact the case.”
Woodcock said if Maine’s congressional delegation does introduce legislation authorizing Acadia to accept the donation of Schoodic Woods, they would make sure the park’s boundary could not be expanded in the future without congressional action.
Kevin Schneider, who started his second week as park superintendent on Monday, said, “If a member of Congress requests it, the National Park Service can provide [bill] drafting services … a draft piece of legislation.”
Steve Katona, chairman of the Acadia Advisory Commission, said the commission endorsed the park’s plan to accept an easement on the Schoodic Woods property in 2013 but was never consulted about a transfer of ownership. Neither was the state’s congressional delegation, according to Woodcock.
“It would have been very helpful if we had been asked to introduce legislation before this mess,” she said.
Advisory Commission members and others who think the NPS’s annexation of the Schoodic property was illegal cite a 1986 law that established the park’s “permanent” boundaries. However, the NPS solicitors said in an opinion that the 1986 law did not repeal a provision of a 1929 law that allowed the Department of the Interior to accept “donations for the extension or improvement of Acadia National Park.”
Katona said that opinion “subverts the intention of the 1986 act.”
The impetus for the 1986 law, which a number of area residents pushed for, was the fear by many people, including officials of towns surrounding Acadia, that there was nothing to stop the park from gobbling up more and more territory.
Earlier this year, the Bar Harbor Town Council also wrote to members of Maine’s delegation asking for a boundary adjustment bill.
“My greatest concern is that we are going to go back to that time when we had greater angst between our communities and the national park, and I don’t see that being productive for either one,” Advisory Commission member Lee Worcester said. “I do think this needs to be corrected so that there isn’t this cloud … or it’s just going to fester.”
Schneider said he, too, wanted to avoid the kind of adversarial relationship that he understands existed prior to 1986, and he pledged not to use the 1929 law to further expand the park.
“This is not something we would expect to see occurring again in the future,” he said.
But Katona said such assurance needs to come from a higher authority because a future superintendent might want to acquire land outside the park’s boundary by using the 1929 law. That law allowed donated land anywhere in Hancock County and on some islands in Knox County to become part of the park.
“I believe the democratic process, working through Congress, can assure people that their concerns will be heard,” he said. “And it should be pretty quick because we don’t want this to fester and to mar a really happy celebration of the  centennial both of the park service and Acadia.”
U.S. Sen. Angus King’s regional representative, Chris Rector, also attended the Advisory Commission meeting but didn’t speak.