S. 257

Acadia National Park Boundary Clarification Act

STATEMENT OF ROBERT VOGEL, ACTING DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE ENERGY & NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, CONCERNING S. 257, TO CLARIFY THE BOUNDARY OF ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.

July 19, 2017
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Chairman Daines, Ranking Member Hirono, and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on S. 257, to clarify the boundary of Acadia National Park, and for other purposes.

The Department supports the boundary confirmation provided by S. 257.  However, this bill also includes changes to a range of authorities for Acadia National Park (Acadia).  The Department supports this legislation with clarifying amendments.  These positions are explained in this statement.

Section 2 of S. 257 would confirm in statute that the boundary of Acadia National Park (Acadia) now also includes the approximately 1,441 acres of land on the Schoodic Peninsula that comprise the Schoodic Woods property that was donated to the National Park Service (NPS) in 2015.  The Schoodic Woods donation was a gift by an anonymous donor that included not only the land but also a newly constructed campground, trails, and other visitor amenities, an endowment to help pay for operating expenses at the site, and funds to pay local governments to help offset the loss of tax revenue.  The addition to the park of this land, adjacent to existing national park land and ready to welcome visitors, was strongly supported by the communities on the Schoodic Peninsula and throughout the area surrounding Acadia.  

The NPS accepted the donation of the Schoodic Woods property and added it to the boundary of the park under the authority of 16 U.S.C. 342(a), which was enacted as part of the Act of January 19, 1929, and which authorizes the National Park Service to accept donations of lands, easements, and buildings within Hancock County, Maine, the county in which most of Acadia is located.  The NPS published the notice of the boundary adjustment reflecting the imminent acceptance of fee title to the Schoodic Woods property in the Federal Register of November 17, 2015.

We are aware of the concerns that have been raised about the use of this authority given that Congress passed legislation in 1986 establishing a “permanent boundary” for the park (Section 102 of P.L. 99-420).  To allay those concerns, the Department supports Section 2.

Section 3 provides that the Secretary may only acquire land or interests in land for Acadia National Park in accordance with the 1986 law, except that the Secretary may conduct exchanges of federal and nonfederal lands that are entirely within the park’s boundaries.  It is important to have this explicit authority to conduct land exchanges (54 USC 102901) because existing law is ambiguous as to whether intraboundary land exchanges are allowed under the 1986 Acadia law. Intraboundary land exchange authority is available for most units of the National Park System. 

However, the intraboundary exception alone does not go far enough in providing the authority the NPS needs to work with owners of land adjacent to park boundaries to collaboratively resolve land issues.  We believe that Acadia should have the administrative boundary adjustment authority under 54 USC 100506, which allows the NPS to exchange land within a park boundary for land outside the boundary, subject to strict requirements.  This authority would assure Acadia has the same ability as nearly every other national park to address encroachments due to mistaken surveys, rationalize boundary lines, and otherwise resolve real-world land ownership dilemmas that have an impact on neighboring landowners.  In many cases these adjustments result in no net increase in federal land ownership.  For that reason, the Department recommends amending this section to include a second exception to the 1986 law for administrative boundary adjustment authority consistent with 54 USC 100506.

Section 4 would authorize the Secretary, subject to the availability of prior appropriations, to contribute $350,000 to a regional consortium of local governments on or near Mount Desert Island that is established to improve the management of the disposal and recycling of solid waste.  The 1986 law required the Secretary to contribute the lesser of $350,000 or 50% of the cost of the construction of a waste transfer facility that would benefit the park as well as the local towns.  This funding was never appropriated and construction of a facility is no longer needed, but there is local interest in converting the $350,000 authorization for construction into a federal payment for municipal waste disposal.  The Department does not believe that this type of subsidy for municipal waste disposal is an appropriate use of federal funds and therefore opposes this section.

Section 5 would permanently authorize the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission.  The Department recognizes the important work of the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission.  The commission advises the Secretary of the Interior, through his designee, the superintendent of Acadia, on matters relating to the management and development of the park including, but not limited to, the acquisition of land and interests in land, and the termination of rights of use and occupancy.  The advisory commission is composed of 16 members, ten of whom are appointed based on recommendations from the park’s host communities including the four towns of Mount Desert Island, three Hancock County mainland towns, and three island towns.  

The commission was first authorized in 1986 and is currently due to expire in 2026.  There are several other advisory commissions for units of the National Park System that are permanently authorized, including the ones at Gettysburg National Military Park, Jimmy Carter National Historic Site, and the National Park of American Samoa.  

Section 6 would prohibit the use of the 1929 authority, and authority under section 3 of the Act of February 26, 1919, to acquire land by donation outside of the “permanent boundary” established in 1986.  The intent of this section is to ensure that the boundaries of the park cannot be enlarged beyond the lines drawn in 1986 through a donation of land.  The Department believes that it is important for parks to have the flexibility to accept donations of land that are adjacent to their boundaries to address a variety of encroachment issues as discussed in section 3.  The Department would not object to this provision if the bill were amended to include limited administrative boundary adjustment authority similar to 54 USC 100506 as an amendment for section 3.  We would be happy to work with the committee on this language.

Section 7 provides that specified lands that were part of Acadia and that were conveyed by the NPS to the town of Tremont, on Mt. Desert Island, for school purposes shall no longer be required to be used exclusively and perpetually for school purposes if the land is being used for public purposes, subject to the condition that use of the land shall not degrade or adversely impact the resources or values of Acadia National Park and that the lands shall remain in public ownership for recreational, educational, or similar public purposes.

Public Law 81-629, enacted in 1950, permitted the NPS to convey a parcel identified as NPS Tract 06-126 to the town to locate a new school.  The conveyance was completed in 1951, with a reverter clause included in the deed specifying that the land would revert back to the United States if no longer used exclusively for school purposes.  The town is now consolidating schools with a neighboring town and thus will no longer use this property exclusively for school purposes, but would like to retain ownership and continue to use the developed property for community purposes.  This legislation would allow it to do so. The Department supports this section.

Section 8 provides that the Secretary shall permit the harvesting of marine organisms in the intertidal areas of Acadia in accordance with the laws (including regulations) of the State of Maine and units of local government.  The provision would allow for the harvesting and aquaculture of clams, worms, mussels, periwinkles, and other marine organisms (as defined by Maine Revised Statutes as in effect on the date of enactment of this act.).   

There is a long history of small-scale commercial harvesting of clams and worms within Acadia’s intertidal zone, despite the NPS’s general prohibition on commercial harvest.  In fact, the activity predates the park’s establishment.  There is no specific legislation authorizing this activity at Acadia, as required by 36 CRF 2.3(d)(4).  

The Department supports permitting harvesting of clams and worms at Acadia, but only if such harvesting can be kept at the traditional level at which it occurs now.  However, the language of section 8 extends authority for harvesting far beyond what is needed to allow traditional harvesting of clams and worms.  We have concerns about expanding the harvesting to other “marine organisms”, or to aquaculture activity.  The full range of organisms included in Maine’s definition of Marine Organism includes, “any animal, plant or other life that inhabits waters below head of tide.”  Such a broad definition could include any species, from plants and mollusks to birds, fish, and mammals, that “inhabits waters below head of tide.”  Rockweed harvest has increased exponentially along the coast in Maine in recent years.  While continued commercial harvest of clams and worms poses a relatively small threat to the intertidal area, harvest of rockweed would have much more significant impacts, as could aquaculture operations. In addition, aquaculture has not historically occurred in Acadia’s intertidal zone and would represent a new use.  

Finally, Section 9 would require the Secretary to convey to the Town of Bar Harbor a 0.29-acre parcel of land for the construction of a solid waste transfer facility.  This provision includes a reverter clause if the land were to be used for a different purpose.  The Department supports this section but would welcome the opportunity to explore potential land exchange options. 

We would be happy to work with the sponsor and the committee to develop amendments to address all of the matters of concern about this bill that are described in this statement.

Chairman Daines, this concludes my statement.  I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the subcommittee may have. 

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