A federal committee is weighing a bill that would make Acadia National Park just the fourth park in the nation to allow commercial harvesting by giving diggers the all-clear to toil in mudflats in and around the park.
During a hearing Wednesday before the House Committee on Natural Resources, Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R- Maine, presented HR 4266, a bill designed to resolve border disputes between the park and surrounding communities. It also includes language aimed at clearing up confusion among marine worm and clam diggers who use tidal mudflats around the park and park rangers who tried to stop them.
“The people of Maine have the right to harvest on the intertidal flats, which we own, not the federal government,” Poliquin told the committee.
During his presentation, Poliquin showed a bloodworming video produced by the Bangor Daily News as part of a series of features about dirty, difficult summer jobs along the coast. Mainers have worked the mud for more than 300 years, and Poliquin stressed the importance of preserving the “traditional” rights to the tidal flats.
Poliquin said there have been several instances in which park employees have approached diggers and ordered them to dump their buckets of clams or worms back into the mud or told them they had no right to harvest there.
The diggers and Poliquin argue that the tidal flats belong to the state, which regulates the harvests and licenses marine worm digging, and that the park should have no oversight over where they dig.
The bill also aims to clear up longstanding confusion over Acadia’s borders and rules surrounding any future expansions at the park.
Last year, a bill in the Senate aimed at giving congressional approval to the addition of 1,400 donated acres at Schoodic Point to Acadia. Though no one has objected to the land being part of the park, the manner in which it was transferred — without direct approval by Congress — raised the ire of officials from surrounding towns who say the transfer violated the intent of federal legislation passed in 1986, which requires federal legislators to vote in support of any expansion of the park beyond a set limit.
The parks service cited a conflicting, but still on-the-books, law from 1929 that allowed the park to accept the donation without congressional approval. The Maine delegation crafted a bill that reinforces the Schoodic Point addition to the park while repealing the 1929 “loophole” law that allowed the transfer without an act of Congress. Poliquin also added the commercial harvesting provision to ease the concerns of area diggers.
Tim Woodcock, a Bangor-based attorney, told the committee that the changes in the bill likely would prevent a costly future legal battle between area towns and the park.
The National Parks Service supports the bill and worked closely with Maine lawmakers on the wording, according to Sue Masica, acting deputy director for operations at the parks service. She said the bill also would resolve disagreement over the park’s role in policing mudflat harvests. Only three other parks in the nation have similar commercial harvesting agreements.
Poliquin and U.S. Sen. Angus King rolled out the bill in January in an effort to resolve a dispute between the park and surrounding communities. Poliquin will ask the committee to move the bill forward before the end of the year for a full House vote, then to the Senate.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.
BDN writer Bill Trotter contributed to this report.
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