ACADIA NAT’L PARK — Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has ordered the Citizen’s Advisory Commission here to cease meeting until further notice.
Members of the commission, which represents the towns surrounding Acadia, were notified of the suspension in a May 9 email from park Superintendent Kevin Schneider.
“Our upcoming meeting scheduled for June 5 is postponed,” Schneider wrote. “The Interior Department has commenced a review of federal advisory committees, including the Acadia Advisory Committee, in order to ensure their compliance with both the Federal Advisory Committee Act and recent executive orders,” he continued.
“Therefore, FACA committee meetings nationwide scheduled through September 2017 are paused until further notice. Depending on the timing of this review, this could also affect our meeting scheduled for September 11.”
Another prominent nearby National Park Service unit among the 200 boards affected by the order is the Cape Cod National Seashore.
Maine’s newest national monument, Katahdin Woods and Waters in Northern Maine, is currently under separate review following an order from President Donald Trump earlier this month calling for another look at monuments established by President Barack Obama.
“What could possibly be wrong with representatives of Maine citizens formally meeting, with proper guidelines and oversight, on pending issues and forwarding informed recommendations, suggestions and ideas to the park?” asked commission Chair Jackie Johnston of Gouldsboro.
“Granted, the public will find ways to bring issues to the superintendent, however, their primary conduit is currently silenced,” she continued. “Regardless of the executive order preventing our formal meetings with the park, we remain Advisory Commission members and as such shall continue to listen by attending public forums conducted by others, engaging with state and municipal officials, and meeting with citizens in grocery stores, on the street or in any other opportunity.”
The Acadia Commission was created in 1986 in the same act of Congress that established a permanent boundary for the park. The commission’s authorization expired in 2006 but was renewed in a 2008 bill introduced by Sen. Susan Collins.
A bill introduced by Sen. Angus King last year to formalize the annexation of more than 1,000 acres of land at Schoodic Peninsula by Acadia also includes an amendment to make the commission permanent.
On Monday, Friends of Acadia President David MacDonald emphasized the importance of the commission to maintaining a close working relationship between the park and area residents.
“The Acadia National Park Advisory Commission has been an important forum for communication between the local communities and the park service for decades,” he said in an email statement. “The commission serves as a sounding board and diverse set of voices from around the region and state that benefits park staff as they navigate complex issues; Friends of Acadia believes that it will only harm Acadia to suspend the meetings of the Advisory Commission.”
MacDonald said his organization, since the announcement of the suspension, has been reaching out to park staff, commission members and Maine’s congressional delegation “to see how we can help resolve this challenge.”
“Citizen engagement at Acadia is at an all-time high,” McDonald said. “We should all be doing whatever we can to encourage that growing public interest, not suspend or limit it.”
All 16 commission members are appointed by the secretary of the interior or the governor of Maine. They include those representing the general public, the state of Maine, and the towns of Bar Harbor, Cranberry Isles, Gouldsboro, Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor, Swans Island, Tremont, Trenton, Winter Harbor and Frenchboro.
Schneider, who is just transmitting orders down the park service’s chain of command, must remain neutral on the commission suspension.
“We will update you as we get more information,” he told commission members in the email announcing the suspension. “Thank you for your flexibility and your support of Acadia National Park.”