To the Editor:
I have been following the Islander’s articles on the controversy over the Acadia expansion at Schoodic Woods and have some more background information on the boundary and acquisitions that should be of interest to your readers. I have been following National Park Service (NPS) acquisition practices at Acadia and elsewhere since 1988.
Of course, this latest expansion has not been done legally. The whole purpose of the 1986 Acadia boundary legislation was to confine the park within fixed boundaries because there was no limit prior to that.
The Schoodic move also is at least the fourth attempt at an expansion since the 1986 legislation that set permanent boundaries. The National Park Service and its booster groups know very well that the law constrains acquisitions.
The 1986 bill was a result of the Sen. George Mitchell “compromise” following decades of controversy and political pressures in which they played a dominant role in Washington. Of course it supersedes the 1929 law cited by the park service in justifying the acquisition.
Prior to 1986, the Acadia National Park law allowed donations and exchanges expansion anywhere in Hancock County and parts of Knox County, but did not permit purchases or the use of eminent domain. The towns wanted to constrain the park with a permanent boundary because it was eating up the tax and land base as wealthy owners donated excess land with tax write-offs or sold it to nonprofits as an intermediary.
Local people did not want the park to have eminent domain authority and had been led to believe there would be none in new legislation. On the other side, the NPS pressure groups demanded an expansion and that NPS be given outright acquisition authority with eminent domain power.
The “compromise” set a permanent boundary expanding the park less than the NPS lobby wanted, but gave NPS eminent domain authority to take private land inside the Acadia acquisition boundary only.
Private property developed contrary to NPS wishes became subject to condemnation. Property owners were told, in essence, that they could not use their own land unless they already had a home, which could not be expanded.
The subsequent 1988 Acadia Land Protection Plan, approved and signed by superintendent Jack Hauptman, spells out how stringent the restrictions are.
The land at the current Schoodic expansion was not subject to eminent domain because it was left outside the permanent boundary. It was, however, subject to activism and a media campaign around 2000 because they didn’t want any logging or even tasteful development on private property outside the park. They called the area “a viewshed.” They knew very well that it could not legally be acquired by the National Park Service and pressured the owner into selling to third parties in anticipation of a later move.
Mitchell confirmed that a permanent boundary was established by his 1986 Acadia legislation and that the National Park Service knew what it was in his latest book published just last year, “The Negotiator: Reflections on an American Life.”
He writes on page 375:
“I became involved with the park when, as a U.S. senator, I wrote and obtained enactment of legislation establishing for the first time a permanent boundary for the park, resolving other contentious issues, and ending nearly a quarter century of conflict between the park and the surrounding towns. It took me six years and required many trips to the island, where I had dozens of meetings with local and national park officials.
“I negotiated many land swaps between the park and the towns and encouraged some private land owners to donate, then or at a future date, some of their property to the park.”
The National Park Service has a record of reinterpreting the law, rewriting it to maximize its own power. This attitude reflects a longstanding goal of the National Park Service lobby to make NPS an “independent” government agency able to act on behalf of its wealthy political supporters while bypassing accountability to the law, Congress and the public. They should not be rewarded by a sanctioning of the illegal expansion at Acadia, with or without the retroactive congressional legislation suggested by the newspaper. Either way, this is all a terrible and dangerous precedent.