A federal bill that would restrict the ability of Acadia National Park to expand and allow traditional marine harvesting to continue along the park’s shoreline has cleared a hurdle in Congress.
The bill, sponsored by Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins, was part of a major public lands package approved Tuesday in the U.S. Senate. Reps. Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree have submitted companion legislation in the House to address the same issues.
The legislation would allow worm and clam diggers and seaweed harvesters to continue harvesting along Acadia’s shore.
The issue of marine harvesting in the park’s intertidal zone came to a head in 2016 as Acadia rangers cracked down on such activities and, at times, told harvesters to leave. Only traditional methods of harvesting — digging or cutting by hand, without the use of mechanized equipment — would be allowed under the legislation.
The legislation also would give Congress’ official approval to Acadia’s 2015 addition of 1,400 forested acres at Schoodic Point. The land, which an anonymous donor gave to the park, is where the Schoodic Woods Campground is located.
The manner by which the land was transferred to the National Park Service four years ago angered officials from surrounding towns who said the transfer violated the intent of federal legislation passed in 1986, which requires Congress to approve any park expansion beyond a set limit. No town officials have objected to the land being part of Acadia.
At the time, Acadia officials cited an obscure federal law from 1929 that allows the park to accept donated land without congressional approval. The proposed legislation would eliminate the park’s ability use the 1929 law as authority to expand beyond the 1986 boundary limit.
In addition, the proposed legislation would remove restrictions on how a piece of land in Tremont, where the town’s K-8 school is located, can be used. The park deeded that land to the town decades ago.
The bill also would make the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission, which includes residents from surrounding communities, permanent.
Bills seeking to address the same issues were introduced in the previous Congress but never received final approval. Maine’s congressional delegation introduced identical bills at the start of the new Congress last month.
The proposed legislation would not transfer a 40-acre, park-owned parcel of woods in Bar Harbor to the town. Bar Harbor town officials have expressed interest in the property, which is unconnected to the rest of the park and prior federal legislation earmarked for use as a transfer station for Mount Desert Island towns.
In recent years, however, interest among MDI-area towns in building such a facility on the property has vanished.
Bar Harbor’s request for the property arose too late to work it into the pending bills, but could be addressed later through a separate proposal, staff members for Maine’s congressional delegation have said.