MOUNT DESERT — Members of Maine’s congressional delegation are looking to draft a bill that authorizes Acadia National Park to annex 1,441 acres on the Schoodic Peninsula including the new Schoodic Woods Campground.
The National Park Service (NPS) posted a notice in the National Register last October that, effective immediately, the Schoodic tract was part of Acadia. Park Service officials cited a 1929 law that authorized the secretary of the interior to accept donations of land for expansion of the park.
But officials of several towns around the park, as well as the park’s own citizens’ advisory commission, questioned the legality of the annexation. They pointed to a 1986 law that established the park’s permanent boundary, and the Schoodic land is outside that boundary.
Virtually no one has expressed opposition to Acadia’s annexation of the Schoodic property, only to the NPS’s decision not to seek congressional approval. The fear among some is that if the 1929 law could be used in this case, it could be used to justify the annexation of other donated lands outside Acadia’s established boundary.
Representatives of three of Maine’s members of Congress are in the process of meeting with local officials in the area to solicit their input on the possible introduction of a bill to explicitly authorize Acadia’s annexation of the Schoodic tract. The three – Carol Woodcock, state office representative for Sen. Susan Collins; Chris Rector, regional representative for Sen. Angus King; and Mark Kontio, Maine staff assistant for Rep. Bruce Poliquin – attended the Mount Desert selectmen’s meeting Tuesday night.
“Sen. Collins has asked me to reach out to all of the towns and interested parties … to find out if there is a true consensus on introducing legislation to expand the boundary to include this property that Acadia National Park has already acquired,” Woodcock told the selectmen.
“People we have already talked to indicated there is strong support for having that property as part of Acadia, but by and large, people have been unhappy with the process.
“This is a fairly high priority,” Woodcock said. “We’ve gotten the sense from a large number of people that they’re concerned that the National Park Service could try to do something like this again.”
A bill could be introduced that simply authorizes Acadia, after the fact, to acquire the Schoodic Woods land. Another option is for a bill that not only does that, but also repeals the 1929 law so that it can never again be used to justify an expansion of Acadia’s boundary. Woodcock said a bill also could address other, mostly minor issues related to Acadia’s land holdings, such as the park’s legal interest in a portion of the property on which Tremont Consolidated School is built.
In 1950, the National Park Service deeded the property to the town of Tremont on the condition that, if at some point, it is no longer used for school purposes, the land would revert to the NPS. The U.S. House passed a bill in September 2014 to eliminate that “reverter clause” in the deed, but the bill died in the Senate.
“It is not an easy task to introduce legislation and have it become law,” Woodcock said. “It’s extremely challenging. That’s why I’m suggesting that if we’re going to do it, let’s try to include things that it’s important to have done.”
She said that, depending on exactly what the bill includes, it is possible that the NPS might oppose it.
“If they don’t support it, that’s going to make it more difficult,” she said, but added that Maine’s members of Congress wouldn’t necessarily bow to the NPS’s objections.
“We may not care if they support it; it could be the bill we want,” Woodcock said. “So, it could take a longer time to get support for it. There are a lot of factors. So, it may not go through this year.”
Selectman Tom Richardson said he thinks the question of whether Acadia’s boundary might be extended in the future is a concern of “anybody who’s surrounded by the park.”
He and Selectman Matt Hart said it isn’t something that people in Mount Desert are losing sleep over, but Hart added, “I think it would let everyone sleep a little easier if the ambiguity was cleared up.”
John Macauley, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, told the members of Congress’s representatives, “If you take anything back with you, I think you have to make sure you say we do care about this boundary very much.”
Town Manager Durlin Lunt asked Woodcock if there is any connection between the Acadia boundary issue and the debate over the possible creation of a national park in northern Maine.
“The Department of the Interior would say they’re not related, but they are,” Woodcock said.
“We’ve been telling people in the northern area that if there is a national monument or national park, they don’t have to worry; it’s never going to be expanded. We’ll that’s not exactly true.”
Woodcock said that is one reason Collins is so interested in having the Acadia boundary issue resolved.