Judge rejects Allagash appeal

Posted Dec. 05, 2008, at 8:49 p.m.

Federal judges have rejected an appeal by two Maine residents frustrated with the state’s management of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston agreed with a lower court that management of the Allagash is largely a state prerogative even though the waterway is part of the federal National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

Charles FitzGerald and Kenneth Cline filed suit in federal court in February 2007 alleging that a state law enacted a year earlier violated Maine’s obligation to maintain the Allagash “in its wild condition to provide a wilderness canoe experience.”

That law guaranteed 11 motor vehicle access points to the river and redesignated six bridges in the waterway as permanent structures. The law reignited long-standing tensions between groups and individuals who want to minimize motorized access to the river and northern Maine residents who want access for day use.

Designated as a “wild and scenic” waterway more than 40 years ago, the Allagash flows for 92 miles through the heart of northern Maine’s commercial forests.

But in the ruling upholding a District Court ruling, the Court of Appeals judges pointed out that statutes give the federal government a more limited role when it comes to wild and scenic rivers administered by a state.

Chief Judge Sandra Lynch wrote that the federal statute clearly recognizes states’ authority over state-administered wild rivers such as the Allagash.

“Maine is obligated to administer the AWW ‘in such manner as to protect and enhance the values which caused it to be included’ in the system of protected rivers,” Lynch wrote. “But the statute leaves the determination of how best to administer the AWW to meet those objectives to Maine.

“There is at most a disagreement between FitzGerald and the state regarding how best to administer the AWW to meet those ends.”

The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ attempts to use federal regulations to block reconstruction of the Henderson Brook Bridge within the Allagash.

The court cites a letter from federal regulators stating that because the bridge was already in place when the Allagash was designated as a wild and scenic river, reconstructing the bridge would not degrade the “wild” character of the waterway.

Neither FitzGerald nor Cline — of Atkinson and Bar Harbor, respectively — could be reached for comment Friday evening.

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