HANCOCK, Maine — Whether clam and worm harvesters can continue to dig without interference in the mudflats abutting Acadia National Park may depend on Congress ratifying the park’s recent expansion on the Schoodic Peninsula.
Rep. Bruce Poliquin said Friday that he is introducing a bill that would address both issues in the same piece of legislation.
The issue of harvesting worms, clams, and seaweed from the shoreline surrounding the park came to a head in the past year as park rangers have increased their scrutiny of such activities and, at times, have told harvesters they have to ply their trade elsewhere. Poliquin held a public meeting on the issue last month at Ellsworth City Hall that drew dozens of harvesters who said that the change in enforcement is threatening to make it harder for them to make a living.
The issue of the park’s acceptance last year of 1,400 acres on the Schoodic Peninsula also has raised alarms from area residents and officials who say the transfer of the property to the park, without Congressional approval, flies in the face of legislation Congress approved in 1986 that restricts the park’s ability to grow beyond a certain set limit.
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Meeting with a dozen or so diggers and others at Skeet’s Bait Shop on Mud Creek Road in Hancock, Poliquin said Friday that he hopes Congress will guarantee that diggers can continue to harvest along Acadia’s shoreline by approving his bill.
“I know how hard you folks work,” Poliquin said. “It is absolutely wrong and unfair for anyone to try to take your livelihoods away.”
Dan Harrington, president of Independent Marine Worm Harvesters Association, said Friday that the group welcomes any effort to have marine harvesting around the park’s edges approved under federal law. He added that he appreciates the park’s mission to protect natural resources but that it should continue to allow marine harvesting in its intertidal zone, which has long been supported under state law.
“To take away the area within the park that we harvest would not only reduce the area that we could harvest but put more pressure on the remaining areas that we harvest. Losing ground is not something we can afford.”
Acadia officials say they have suspended further enforcement of the park’s intertidal harvesting rules while they work with harvesting groups and state officials on a possible compromise.
As for the transfer of the 1,400-acre Schoodic parcel, members of the park’s citizen advisory commission have said the manner in which it happened has revived concerns that they thought had been resolved 30 years ago. They have said the 1986 law requires Congress to approve any expansion of Acadia beyond that set limit, including the Schoodic parcel.
Park officials have said that a more obscure 1929 federal law allowed them to accept the land, which was given to the park by an anonymous donor, and promised that they would not use that law as authorization for any more land donations. Critics of the transfer publicly have expressed doubts about the validity of the park’s legal interpretation.
There have been few, if any, objections to the park actually owning the 1,400 acres, where a new campground and a small network of hiking and biking trails were completed last year.
Sen. Angus King has introduced a separate bill that retroactively would give Congressional approval to the expansion and would negate the ability of the park service to use the 1929 law as justification for acquiring land, or interest in any land, that lies outside the 1986 boundary limit.
Aides to Poliquin said Friday that the congressman hopes his bill and the Senate version proposed by King will be combined to address both the intertidal harvesting and Schoodic expansion issues.
Poliquin’s bill, according to his staffers, also would ease federal restrictions on two parcels of undeveloped land on Mount Desert Island — one in Tremont and one in Bar Harbor — that were to used for solid waste management, and would fulfill a 1986 financial commitment by Congress to give $350,000 to the Acadia Disposal District so area communities can improve their solid waste disposal and recycling.