BAR HARBOR, Maine — Acadia Corp., which has been operating retail sites in Acadia National Park for 80 years, is not the only one unhappy with the National Park Service’s decision not to renew the company’s contract.
Last week, the park service indicated it has awarded the 10-year retail concessions contract to Ortega National Parks LLC, which is based in Santa Fe, N.M. The decision has prompted an online petition effort at MoveOn.org, which as of midday Wednesday had garnered more than 4,500 supporters.
The petition calls for members of Maine’s congressional delegation to “investigate the awarding of Acadia National Park vendor contracts to out of state Ortega Family Enterprises.” The petition describes Ortega as a “controversial company” that has used “powerful lobbyists and money to evict another local [contracted] business” from Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.
“Preservation of local jobs should be a priority,” the online petition reads. Attempts this week to contact people who organized the petition drive were unsuccessful.
For decades, the contract to operate gift shops at Cadillac Mountain, Jordan Pond and Thunder Hole, as well as the Jordan Pond House restaurant, has been held by Acadia Corp., which is based in Bar Harbor. In recent years, the company has employed about 200 people during the peak summer season, of which roughly 120 work at the concession sites or elsewhere in support of those operations.
Shane Ortega, president of the New Mexico firm, said last week that the company plans to offer employment to Acadia Corp. staffers who want to return to their jobs next spring, when Acadia’s seasonal retail sites reopen.
Members of Maine’s congressional delegation indicated this week that they are aware of the park concessions contract situation.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud indicated in an emailed statement that “a number of the concerns” have been brought to his attention over the contract award. He said he plans to weigh in with the House Natural Resources Committee and the National Park Service to make sure that the best interests of the park, its workers and visitors have been “front and center” in the contract approval process.
“It’s critical that concessions at Acadia serve to enhance, and not diminish, the unique heritage of Maine’s only national park,” Michaud said.
Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King said in a separate emailed statement that he plans to raise the issue next week with NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis.
“It makes no sense that a long running company with roots in Maine would lose the concessions contract in Acadia in favor of a company from New Mexico,” King said. “It really comes down to a host region being treated with greater respect and consideration.”
Kevin Kelley, spokesman for Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, wrote Wednesday in an email that Collins’ staff has been in touch with park service officials and members of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to learn more about the contract process.
“We are concerned that it does not appear the park service solicited input from the local community before deciding to award this contract,” Kelley said. “The Senator has heard from members of the community who are very concerned by this change.”
Officials with the NPS Northeast Region Office in Philadelphia have indicated that they contacted members of Maine’s congressional delegation after they decided to award the contract to Ortega. Due to the federal government shutdown, however, they said they did not have enough information to comment on the petition drive or what kind of appeals options may be available.
David Woodside, president of Acadia Corp., said Monday that he has been encouraged by the “outpouring” of support the company has received in the wake of the NPS decision. He said he has spoken with members of the state’s congressional delegation who have expressed concern that an out-of-state firm was given the contract.
“They’re looking into it right now,” Woodside said, without specifying which members of the delegation he had spoken with. “Replacing a Maine company with a New Mexico company does not resonate well with [local] people.”
Woodside added that, by his estimate, $1.5 million that had been spent in Maine each year by having Acadia Corp. handle Acadia’s in-park retail sales now will be spent out of state.
The Acadia Corp. official said he’s a little more optimistic this week about getting the park service to change its mind than he was when he first got the news. He said that when the old Jordan Pond House restaurant burned down in 1979, the park service initially planned to convert it into a picnic area but then changed its mind after members of the public and Congress raised objections to that plan.
NPS officials have said that the contract will not be signed until after it passes a 60-day review period by Congress. Woodside said members of Congress can ask questions about the proposed contract during that time but he is not sure whether they could require the park service to reconsider.