Obama lodging arrangements develop on MDI

Posted July 19, 2010, at 1 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:08 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — Despite the dozens of large private local estates owned by wealthy and influential people on Mount Desert Island, it doesn’t appear President Barack Obama and his family will be anyone’s houseguests this weekend when they spend two days of vacation here.

The first family — the president, first lady Michelle Obama, and their daughters, Sasha, 9, and Malia, 12 — are planning to do what hundreds of thousands if not millions of other vacationers do each summer when they come to see Acadia National Park and the picturesque, seaside villages that dot MDI.

They’re going to stay at a local hotel.

Federal officials have not commented about where the Obamas will stay or about other details of the visit, but multiple reliable sources have indicated that the first family will be staying at the Bar Harbor Regency, a waterfront hotel owned by Ocean Properties on Route 3. Utility workers, law enforcement officials and other tradespeople have been seen at the hotel over the past few days, helping to prepare the resort property for the high-profile guests.

The Regency has 278 rooms, including two rooftop penthouse suites, according to the hotel’s website. There also are several buildings on the hotel property, including some that can be used as private residences. It was not clear Wednesday where on the property the Obamas will be staying.

The Obamas are expected to arrive around midday Friday at Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport in Trenton and then to depart on Sunday morning. The plane is expected to be Air Force One, though not the 747 most people might expect to see. The airport runway is not big enough to handle such a large airplane, so a smaller plane will be used. Any airplane that transports the president automatically becomes Air Force One.

As more details about the Obamas’ travel and lodging arrangements become apparent, so are details about security measures that will be in place while the president and his family are on MDI.

Bar Harbor Police Chief Nathan Young said Wednesday that vehicle traffic along the section of Route 3 that passes by the hotel is expected to be restricted during the Obamas’ visit. All through traffic between the village of Hulls Cove and downtown Bar Harbor will be directed onto the Paradise Hill section of the Acadia Na-tional Park road, which parallels Route 3, to either West Street Extension or to Route 233, he said. All heavy trucks coming onto MDI will have to use routes 102, 198 and 233 through Somesville to get to downtown Bar Harbor.

Anyone who lives or works near the Regency, or who is staying there or at a hotel nearby, will be allowed to drive on Route 3 past the Regency during the Obamas’ visit, Young said. The Regency will be open for business while the president and his family are there. A wedding planned for the Regency on Saturday is expected to go ahead as scheduled, the police chief said.

On Wednesday, in preparation for the Obamas’ visit, security and area public safety officials met at the Trenton airport to discuss logistics while officials set up special communications equipment outside an airport building.

According to Allison Navia, manager of the airport, access to the airport will be restricted during the Obamas’ visit. Commercial passenger flights will come and go as scheduled, she said Wednesday, but there will be no recreational, general aviation or sightseeing flights from the airport during those two days. Private flights will be allowed but with higher levels of security screenings. Vehicle access to Caruso Drive, which connects the airport facilities to Route 3, also will be restricted while the Obamas are visiting MDI, she said.

Navia said long-term parking of aircraft at the airport will not be allowed during the Obama’s visit. Pilots and aircraft owners are being encouraged to “drop and go,” Navia said, which means they should stay long enough to pick up or drop off passengers before departing again. Aircraft parking for the two days will be limited to two hours, she said.

Fishermen who set traps near shore by the Regency also will face some minor access restrictions while the president is in town, according to Maj. Alan Talbot of Maine Marine Patrol.

Fishermen don’t have to remove gear near the hotel but are being asked not to haul their traps between midday Friday and midday Sunday, he said. Fishing already is not allowed on Sundays, so the restrictions will affect fishermen for only about a day and a half, he said.

Fishermen who have to tend their gear on Friday afternoon or on Saturday can do so, Talbot said, but they will have to check in with Coast Guard and Marine Patrol vessels in the area before they are allowed to approach their traps.

“We’re talking about a relatively small area,” Talbot said. “It shouldn’t be a huge interruption.”

As for why the Obamas chose to stay at the Regency rather than rent a private home or stay with one of the very wealthy and politically well-connected families who own summer estates on the island, no one has provided a definitive answer. White House and Secret Service officials won’t comment, and attempts Wednesday to contact Eben Salvatore, Ocean Properties’ director of operations on MDI, were unsuccessful.

The fact that Ocean Properties is owned by hotelier Thomas Walsh and his family is believed to have played a role in the decision. Walsh, whose company owns more than 100 resort and hotel properties in North America, including more than 10 in Maine, is well connected politically.

Walsh is a longtime supporter of the Democratic Party and is friends with Gov. John Baldacci and former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, both Democrats like Obama. Mitchell, who has two children the same ages as the Obama daughters, serves as Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East and owns a home nearby in the Mount Desert village of Seal Harbor.

Both Gov. Baldacci’s brother, Bob Baldacci, and Mitchell were active partners with Walsh in Ocean Properties’ ultimately unsuccessful efforts to win a contract with the city of Portland to redevelop the Maine State Pier.

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