ELLSWORTH — Resolution of the ongoing conflicts over the boundaries of Acadia National Park and the extent to which worm and shellfish diggers may continue to harvest resources from the flats along the park’s shorefront took a baby step forward last week.
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks voted to pass a bill sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine) that would help address the concerns of communities near the park about boundary issues and the use of intertidal zones by harvesters of clams and worms.
“For years, Maine clammers and wormers have relied on the flats of the intertidal zone at Acadia to earn a living and provide for their family,” King and Collins said in a joint statement. “Our legislation will ensure that the federal government does not interfere with this longstanding right and finds commonsense solutions for the communities surrounding Acadia.
“We are pleased by today’s step forward, and will continue pushing for this legislative effort to address these lingering concerns once and for all.”
In 2015, the park was given more than 1,400 acres on the Schoodic Peninsula by an anonymous donor. Towns and communities in the area approved of the gift.
It was only after the land was transferred to the park that the Park Service informed the public that the legal authority it relied on for the transfer came from a 1929 law that many in the Bar Harbor area believed was repealed in 1986, after passage of a law that set boundary limits on the park. The boundary law was a response to growing concerns about the size of the park and its impact on the municipal tax bases.
At about the same time, clam and worm diggers working in the intertidal zone near Acadia National Park raised concerns that they would not be able to continue their traditional harvesting because of strict enforcement measures taken by park wardens.
While the Park Service has currently come to an agreement to allow these traditional harvests to continue, this legislation would ensure that this traditional harvest can continue into the future.
King and Collins first introduced their bill after Hancock County towns and residents voiced concern upon learning that the Park Service had relied on the 1929 law for the Schoodic transfer because it could potentially set precedent for future acquisitions.
Residents contacted the Maine congressional delegation to express their concern and request for a repeal of the 1929 law, while at the same time keeping the Schoodic land transfer.
In July 2016, Sens. King and Collins introduced a bill in the Senate to resolve the issue. Later, the bill was amended to address other concerns regarding Acadia National Park, including lifting restrictions on a parcel in Tremont and allowing for traditional harvesting of clams and worms to continue.
Last November, King and Collins introduced the bill that passed in the subcommittee last week. It was supported by the National Park Service at a February hearing by the subcommittee. After the hearing, the bill was amended to clarify its original intent.
The next step will be consideration before the full Senate. A companion bill introduced by Reps. Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine) and Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) has already passed in the House of Representatives, but following the Senate amendment the new legislation must be reconsidered by the House.