October 17, 2013

Attempted park closure irks Maine fishermen

The state funds resources at Cobscook Bay State Park but a federal agency has tried to close the area, which it owns.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Michael Kilby, who makes his living fishing the waters off Washington County, says he could not care less what is going on in that other Washington. Nine times of out 10, it doesn’t affect him.

“I don’t care about politics. I just want to go to work,” he said.

But in the last several days, the federal government shutdown has traveled up the East Coast and landed in his lap.

Last week, Kilby and about two dozen other fishermen who launch their boats at Cobscook Bay State Park returned to their parked vehicles after a day of work to find notices.

They were from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the Moosehorn Wildlife Refuge, which owns the land that the state park and boat launch sit on. They said the boat launch was closed and the fishermen should refrain from using it.

“We balled up the pieces of paper, threw ’em on the floor and continued doing what we’ve been doing,” Kilby said.

On Monday, federal officials went one step further. They put up barricades – wooden sawhorses with signs that read, “Area beyond this sign closed. All public entry prohibited,” and “Government shutdown. Refuge is closed. ... Please do not block gates.”

“Those (barricades) might have gotten thrown over the bank,” Kilby said.

Washington County Commissioner Chris Gardner, who has heard from a number of disgruntled fishermen, said any attempts by federal officials to put the barricades back up will be met by attempts from locals to move them again.

“There are no federal resources used for that park or the boat launch,” Gardner said. “It’s all state- and county-run. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst, who represents Edmunds Township, where the state park is located, had stronger words.

“It’s petty, it’s vindictive, it’s asinine,” Lockman said. “The feds hold title to the real estate, but that’s the only skin they have in the game. The government is spending more money during the shutdown to do this kind of stuff.”

Ed Gilman, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, said the congressman’s office has been called about the issue and has worked to put federal officials in touch with state officials to broker a quick resolution.

The state-federal flap has gotten the attention of Gov. Paul LePage, who announced Tuesday that he plans to visit the park later this week. LePage has expressed outrage that the federal government is allowing states to reopen national parks if they use state resources, but will not allow Cobscook Bay State Park to open.

“I am calling on the federal government to remove the barricades,” LePage said in a statement. “This ramp is a lifeline for local working fishermen, and it is a disgrace that the federal government is interfering with their livelihoods.

“Cobscook Bay State Park is a state-managed park, and we will continue to support our working fishermen whose livelihoods rely on access to this boat launch. The shutdown is the result of a failure of leadership in Washington, D.C., and it is inexplicable that the Obama Administration would punish local fishermen and any others seeking access to the ocean for it.”

LePage said if the federal government demands resources to open the park, the civil emergency he signed late last week authorizes him to provide such resources.

As for Kilby and the other Washington County fishermen, they plan to go to work Wednesday, not knowing what might await them.

“I’m just trying to make a day’s pay,” Kilby said.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:erussell@pressherald.comTwitter: @PPHEricRussell

 

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