Officials: Delay in contract signing could threaten opening of Acadia sites

People eat outside the Jordan Pond House in Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island in July 2010.
People eat outside the Jordan Pond House in Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island in July 2010. Buy Photo
Posted Feb. 03, 2014, at 7:29 p.m.

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — Federal officials have yet to sign a final contract with a concessions vendor for Maine’s only national park, which has raised concerns about whether the park’s gift shops and restaurant will open on time this summer.

Officials with Acadia National Park told members of the park’s advisory panel Monday that the National Park Service has yet to sign a final contract with Dawnland LLC, the firm that has been selected to take over the park’s concessions contract from Bar Harbor-based Acadia Corp.

Acadia Corp. lost the contract to Dawnland, a subsidiary of New Mexico-based Ortega National Parks LLC, last year after the park solicited proposals for a new 10-year concessions contract in Acadia National Park. Acadia Corp., which has had retail operations inside the park for 80 years, has appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C.

Officials with Acadia National Park, who were not part of panel that picked the new concessioner, said Monday that the contract issue threatens to delay opening of gift shops at Cadillac Mountain, Thunder Hole and Jordan Pond, and of the Jordan Pond House restaurant, all of which usually open their doors in May. The contract has to go through a 60-day review period by Congress, but that does not start until after the National Park Service signs the contract, which has yet to happen. The contract goes into effect only after Congress ends its review period.

“That leaves us kind of in limbo,” Sheridan Steele, superintendent for Acadia National Park, told the advisory commission. “Of course, we hope an operator will be in place before the season starts. Whether [the Jordan Pond House] would even be open is a legitimate concern.”

David Woodside, president of Acadia Corp., said Monday that if his company had been given a contract renewal, it would be in the midst of getting ready for the coming summer tourist season. He said under prior contracts, Acadia Corp. was expected to open the gift shops by May 1 and the restaurant by May 20 each year.

“Normally, we’d be hiring now,” Woodside said. Acadia has its own shops in downtown Bar Harbor that it plans to operate as usual this summer.

Woodside acknowledged having said last month that the contract had been signed by federal officials in December, but said Monday he had been misinformed.

Shane Ortega of Dawnland LLC wrote in an email Monday that his firm signed the contract in mid-December and has been waiting since then for the National Park Service officials in the Northeast regional office in Philadelphia to do the same.

“They were not transparent about this delay, and that puts us [at] a significant risk,” Ortega wrote. “For me, the real problem right now is that both we and Acadia Corp. are advertising job opportunities, and this is confusing for people who want to work [at the concessions sites].”

Ortega added that, with the delay, the “best potential employees” likely will find jobs elsewhere in the next few months. Plus, whoever will be expected to run the sites needs to start building inventory now.

“Employee recruitment, retail ordering, food orders, and kitchen equipment are all paramount and need to start happening ASAP,” Ortega wrote. “Even if the courts give a preliminary ruling in mid-February, and the NPS submits that contract this week, it will be very tight to open on time.”

Oral arguments in Acadia Corp.’s appeal are expected to be heard in federal court in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 14.

Woodside told the park’s advisory panel that if the dispute still was not resolved by this summer, his company would be able to step in and operate the gift shops and restaurants — with official approval, he added. He was somewhat apologetic for taking legal action against the National Park Service, which he said he has always viewed as a valuable partner in Acadia Corp.’s business.

“We never thought we would be here, suing the government,” Woodside said. “The level of irregularities rose to the level where we thought it was worthy of a challenge.”

Officials with the NPS regional office in Philadelphia did not respond Thursday to requests for comment.

 

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