S. 3027

Acadia National Park Boundary Clarification Act

STATEMENT OF DR. STEPHANIE TOOTHMAN, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, CULTURAL RESOURCES, PARTNERSHIPS, AND SCIENCE,  NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE, CONCERNING S. 3027, TO CLARIFY THE BOUNDARY OF ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.

JUNE 15, 2016
_____________________________________________________________________________

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the Department of the Interior’s views on S. 3027, to clarify the boundary of Acadia National Park, and for other purposes.

The Department would support the sections of S. 3027 that address Acadia National Park’s boundary, the National Park Service’s (NPS) authority to adjust the park boundary, and the use of property conveyed from the NPS to the town of Tremont, if those sections are amended in accordance with this statement.  Regarding the bill’s removal of the statutory time limit for the authorization of the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission, the Department is not opposed to that provision.

Section 2 of S. 3027 would modify the boundary of Acadia National Park (Acadia) established in law in 1986 to include approximately 1,441 acres of land on the Schoodic Peninsula that comprise the Schoodic Woods property that was donated to the NPS in 2015.  The Schoodic Woods donation  was an extremely generous 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.

The intent of Section 2 appears to be to confirm in statute the action the NPS took administratively to add Schoodic Woods to the boundary of Acadia.  Although we believe that the NPS was on solid legal ground in using the 1929 authority for this boundary adjustment, 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).  However, we are concerned that legislation that amends the 1986 law to modify the boundary to include Schoodic Woods not only is redundant, it may also have unintended consequences for actions that took place with respect to those lands between the dates the United States accepted title and the effective date of this legislation.  We would like to work with the sponsor and the committee on an amendment that, rather than modifying the boundary, would confirm that the “permanent boundary” has been modified to include this parcel.         

Section 3(c) of S. 3027 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.  Because the 1986 law effectively precludes the use of the minor boundary adjustment authority under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act (54 U.S.C. 100506), the effect of section 3(c) would be to eliminate any administrative authority for the NPS to accept a donation of even a fraction of an acre of land with important resource values if it is located outside the 1986 boundary.  Most national parks may use this limited administrative authority to acquire small parcels of land by purchase, exchange or donation.  Those parks are able to respond quickly to opportunities or circumstances that are relevant to the park not only to accept donations, but also to make relatively modest purchases of land outside the boundary.  We believe that Acadia should have that authority as well.  We would like to work with the sponsor and the committee to find a way to provide the same limited flexibility that other national parks have for acquiring land outside their boundary.

Section 4 of S. 3027 would permanently authorize the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission.  The commission was first authorized in 1986 and is currently due to expire in 2026.  The Department is not opposed to eliminating the expiration date.  There are several other advisory commissions for units of the National Park System that are permanently authorized, including the ones at Gettysburg National Battlefield Park, Jimmy Carter National Historic Site, and the National Park of American Samoa.  

The Department recognizes the important work of the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission.  The commission advises the Secretary of the Interior, through her 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.  

Finally, Section 5 of S. 3027 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.

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 of America 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 NPS has no intended uses for the property, and is agreeable to allowing the town to use the property for similar public purposes, so long as the use of the property will not degrade or adversely impact park resources and values, and the property remains in public ownership for recreational, educational or similar public purposes.  We would support this section if amended to provide for those specific terms.  We would be happy to provide recommended language.

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