October 17, 2013

U.S. won’t enforce closure of Maine park boat launch

Despite the announcement by members of Maine’s delegation and the end of the government shutdown, Gov. LePage still plans a visit Thursday.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials will not prohibit access to a boat launch at Cobscook Bay State Park in Washington County that had been barricaded earlier this week, members of Maine’s congressional delegation said Wednesday.

The state park and the boat launch are locally managed, but the land they sit on is part of the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, which is federal property. The government shutdown on Oct. 1 forced the closure of the park and, in recent days, federal officials have warned fishermen and others to refrain from using the boat launch as well.

U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, both Democrats, and U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent, announced Wednesday that they received word from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials that the public will be permitted to use the boat launch during the shutdown.

“I am pleased the agency has agreed not to enforce the closure of this state-maintained boat launch that many fishermen rely on,” Michaud said in a statement.

Added King: “While not enforcing the closure is a welcomed decision, it is nonetheless a temporary fix, and Congress must vote to immediately end the shutdown and reopen vital facilities like this across the state and the nation.”

The announcements from members of Congress did little to convince Gov. Paul LePage, who still plans to travel Down East on Thursday to support the local fishermen.

“The state has not received notification from the Obama administration indicating that boat launch is open,” the governor said in a statement Wednesday. “I am calling on the administration to ensure local working fishermen have access to this critical boat ramp. It is a lifeline for local working fishermen and it is a disgrace that the federal government is interfering with that.”

The issue came to light after fishermen in Washington County contacted local lawmakers last week to report that notices had been left on their vehicles indicating that the boat launch was closed. On Monday, federal officials put up wooden barricades blocking entrance to the parking area, but fishermen took them down.

LePage used the state-federal flap to take a shot at Michaud, who is one of his main challengers in the 2014 race for governor.

“It appears that after my administration raised this issue on behalf of local fisherman, Congressman Michaud has announced federal agents will stop enforcing their barricade. There has been no official announcement that fishermen will not face legal ramifications if they cross this barricade,” LePage said. “Mr. Michaud is not the president and he does not direct this federal department. The questions are then: Why is Mr. Michaud announcing policy and why did it take my announcement of a visit for him to take action?”

Michaud spokesman Ed Gilman said his office was surprised by the governor’s statement. Gilman said staff were contacted about the issue Monday and worked immediately to put local officials in touch with federal officials to come up with a quick resolution.

“What we did was in no way a reaction to anything the governor did,” Gilman said.

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or: erussell@pressherald.com.Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

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