Advisory Commission



In May, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that he was suspending the work and authority of more than 200 advisory commissions to allow a full-scale, internal review of their duties and responsibilities.

That included the Acadia Advisory Commission, which did not hold its usual June meeting. The commission, created when the park’s permanent boundary was established in 1986, has been hailed widely as a valuable mechanism to allow the 10 area towns affected by the park, as well as state government, to make their concerns known and gain better insight into park management issues that may impact their constituencies.

Last Monday, U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) cajoled Zinke during a congressional hearing to lift the suspension. King and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) earlier in the week had written a letter to Zinke urging him to do so.

The senators wrote: “While we understand that reviewing the charter of each board and advisory committee is designed to help ensure compliance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act and the president’s recent executive orders, we are particularly concerned with suspending meetings of the Acadia Commission at the start of the busy summer season.”

They continued: “Support for the work of the Acadia Commission is strong. In fact, we have proposed making the commission permanent in legislation we introduced earlier this year. Suspending the commission’s activity, particularly during the busy summer season, would impede the ability of Acadia officials to remain responsive to local concerns. Acadia experiences its highest volume of visitors to its 47,000 acres in the summer months. Visitors to Mount Desert Island in particular travel back and forth from Acadia to the various communities throughout their stay.

“We ask that you reconsider the suspension of meetings of the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission while the department completes its review. The regular communication between the communities and Acadia facilitated by the commission is vitally important to the continued success of Acadia National Park.”

On Thursday, Collins and King proudly announced that Zinke had lifted the suspension effective Sept. 1 and that the commission would be able to meet on its regular date on Sept. 11. In the meantime, vital consideration of the park’s draft transportation plan was delayed unnecessarily.

The question that needs to be asked, however, is exactly what was accomplished by the suspension? Nearly all of the affected groups were duly authorized by Congress and had minimal expenses, if any at all. The costs associated with them were just an in-house estimate of staff time expenses, which are almost impossible to determine accurately.

Acadia Commission Chairman Jackie Johnston, of Gouldsboro, said this week that no one from the Interior Department contacted her while the suspension was in place to ask about the group, its work or its effectiveness.

Some less patient critics of the suspension claimed it was done entirely for political purposes as part of the Trump administration’s effort to consider actions that could be taken to reverse as many Obama-era regulations and appointments as possible. Because the Acadia Commission has no direct regulatory authority and can only make recommendations, it doesn’t make sense that its work had to be suspended while the review was underway.

Legislation currently pending in Congress that would formalize Acadia’s recent annexation of land at Schoodic also includes a provision reauthorizing the Advisory Commission. One good thing to come out of Zinke’s broad suspension has been the attention focused on how valuable the commission has become in maintaining a strong relationship and open channels of communication between park officials and area communities.

 

 

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