June 19, 2018
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LePage deserves credit, not condemnation, for supporting Washington County fishermen

Contributed photo | BDN
Contributed photo | BDN
Walter Whitcomb, commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry
By Walter E. Whitcomb, Special to the BDN

Throughout the federal government shutdown, Gov. Paul LePage and state government officials demonstrated responsible leadership and engaged in proactive problem-solving to minimize the effects of the shutdown on workers and Maine people affected by the political dysfunction in Washington, D.C.

Actions taken by federal agencies appeared to be punitive measures designed to inflict maximum pain on the general public at the behest of the White House.

LePage immediately engaged his commissioners, allowing staff in two state agencies to seek solutions to mitigate the effect of the shutdown on working fishermen and families trying to enjoy the Columbus Day weekend and peak foliage.

The BDN’s Oct. 22 editorial, “ LePage chooses made-for-TV standoff over problem-solving in Cobscook Bay,” is baseless and disappointing on several levels.

With regard to Cobscook Bay State Park and the Edmunds boat launch located in the park, collaborative problem solving began on Oct. 1. That’s when Bill Kolodnicki, manager of Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, reported that due to the federal shutdown Cobscook Bay State Park would be shut down, along with the rest of the Moosehorn.

Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry staff cleared out the campground and notified the Maine Department of Marine Resources that there was a potential issue with the Edmunds boat launch because of its location in the state park. The launch, which is used by commercial fishermen, was built, is operated by and maintained by the DACF and Washington County.

The Maine DACF and DMR both worked with local and regional United States Fish and Wildlife Service representatives to determine the status of the state park and the boat launch. Again, Cobscook Bay State Park is funded, staffed and maintained by the state of Maine.

After President Barack Obama offered to let states reopen national parks if they paid the federal government, the DACF and governor’s staff appealed to federal officials, asking them to let Maine reopen Cobscook Bay State Park. Since Maine taxpayers completely fund and operate the park, it seemed like a perfectly logical request. That request was denied.

Throughout the shutdown, the DACF and Marine Patrol Officers monitored the boat launch to ensure that local fishermen continued to have unimpeded access. Reports from the site indicated that fishermen continued to use the launch through Oct. 13, although a sign posted by the federal government said otherwise.

On Oct. 14, word came that a Marine Patrol officer discussed the launch with the USFWS enforcement officer, who said they were not closing the ramp. At the same time, pictures appeared showing the federal government had placed barricades to block access to the launch.

By this time, LePage had enough of the conflicting actions by the federal government. In response to the concerns of Washington County officials, the governor announced on Oct. 15 that he would be going to the Edmunds boat launch on Oct. 17.

The governor had been scheduled months ago to visit Washington County businesses, schools and the local hospital on that day. Naturally, he wanted to visit the boat launch to personally assess the situation.

Both U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud announced on Oct. 16 that the boat launch would remain open, but the governor’s office had received no official notification. Because the governor had already been scheduled to visit Washington County, he proceeded with his visit to the boat launch on Oct. 17.

LePage stated that if and when the federal government shuts down again, he and Washington County officials would ensure that fishermen have access to the boat launch.

The governor and state officials worked together to try to collaborate with the federal government. When conflicting rhetoric from federal officials threatened to disrupt the livelihoods of fishermen, LePage called them out, exposing their actions.

As governor, it is his responsibility to stand up for Maine citizens in the face of overreaching federal power. LePage simply stood up for hardworking Washington County fishermen just trying to go to work and promised that he would again if necessary.

Walter E. Whitcomb is commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

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