Acadia Park slows down marine proposal

Posted Feb. 25, 2010, at 9:17 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:47 a.m.

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — The park’s advisory commission has recommended that Acadia National Park officials take more time to gather and share information about a proposed marine protected area in the waters off Mount Desert Island.

By taking a more deliberate approach, the park might be able to reassure residents of surrounding towns that it does not intend to place any restrictions on existing marine activities that would be in the protected area, according to park officials.

Last week, the commission decided to send a letter to the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration asking the agency to suspend the park’s application for marine protected area status near MDI until more information can be shared and the commission can make a final recommendation.

Some area residents “have opposed or do not have enough information to support the park’s application,” the letter indicated.

Acadia officials have said the designation essentially would include park officials in a network of governmental agencies that share information about marine activities and issues in the waters adjacent to the park, which overlooks Frenchman Bay, Blue Hill Bay and other bays off the Gulf of Maine. Designating the waters off Mount Desert Island and Isle au Haut as a marine protected area would not impose any new restrictions on existing marine activities in those areas, park officials have said.

But officials in towns surrounding the park are worried such a designation could lead to restrictions. Many of those towns have residents that fish for a living, area town officials have said, and they don’t want to face any more limitations on their livelihood. Earlier this month, Swan’s Island even sent a letter to NOAA outlining its concerns about establishing such an area off Acadia.

At a meeting last week, the park’s advisory commission, which comprises residents from surrounding towns, endorsed a plan to take a slower approach.

According to Len Bobinchock, deputy superintendent for Acadia, the public can submit comments on the idea to NOAA. The park plans to review comments that may be sent to NOAA before it decides whether to continue with its application, he said.

“If there’s enough opposition, we might decide not to pursue it,” he said.

Information about how to submit comments to NOAA can be found on the Internet at http://mpa.gov/mpafac/comment_guidelines.html.

In other business, Bobinchock said Thursday that the park’s recently released visitation numbers from last year represent a slight increase from the previous year.

Acadia had 2,216,000 visitors in 2009, which is 6.76 percent more than its 2008 totals, he said. Since 2004, he added, Acadia consistently has had between 2 million and 2.2 million visitors each year.

Bobinchock said the fact that last year’s numbers held steady with previous years and was higher than 2008’s figures was reassuring.

“Considering the economy and everything else going on last year, that’s pretty good,” Bobinchock said.

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