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Local Town Officials Fear Sequester Cuts at Maine's Acadia National Park
02/26/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

New economic data from the National Park Service has gateway communites surrounding Acadia National Park especially nervous about federal budget cuts due to take effect Friday. Last year, about 2.5 million people visited Acadia. And as Jay Field reports, local officials are worried that sequestration-imposed cutbacks - and any accompanying bad publicity - could persuade fewer of them to visit the park this summer.

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A National Park Service memo, leaked to The Associated Press and other news outlets, lays out what sequestration would do to parks across the country. Acadia would face a 5 percent, across-the-board cut of its budget.

But Len Bobinchock, Acadia's deputy superintendent, says it would actually be worse than that. "Half of the fiscal year has already transpired. A 5 percent cut, at this time of year, is really asking us to take a 10 percent cut."

This is the time of year when Acadia hires its roughly 150 summer employees. But the National Park Service has put a hiring freeze in place because of all the uncertainty in Washington.

Bobinchock worries the delay may prevent Acadia from bringing on the people it needs, even if members of Congress strike a deal to head off the sequester. If the cuts go through, the park would also have to forget about hiring five permanent positions that remain unfilled. Bobinchock says one of them is pretty important:

"It's the park's only plumber," he says.

Jay Field: "Geez....ah....that's not good."

Len Bobinchock: "It's not when you have 33 public restrooms."

Bobinchock says Acadia would also be forced to cut operating hours at the Hull's Cove Visitors Center. "You may also see us reduce ranger-led programs," he says. "Typically, we do 54 programs a week. We're thinking - on a worst case scenario - maybe we'd be doing 25 a week this year."

Recent polls show the public poised to blame the Republican Party if leaders in Washington fail to reach a deal to head off $85 billion in sweeping reductions to federal spending under the sequester.

Neither side is thrilled about achieving deficit reduction this way. Republicans say the president and his allies are hyping the potential impact of the sequester at various agencies and departments to maximize political advantage and push through a deal for more tax increases on the rich. But Democrats say the proposed spending cuts at national parks, and many other agencies and departments, would hurt the fragile economic recovery in local communities across the country.

"The national park, you know, they market for us," says Durlin Lunt, town manager in Mt. Desert. "The amount of brochures, publicity, whatever the park generates when the president came a couple of years ago - anything that harms the national park inevitably will harm the communties."

In 2011, tourists spent more $186 million in the gateway communites within 60 miles of Acadia, according to a recent study by the National Park Service. "We get an estimated 3 million visitors a year who come to Bar Harbor to visit the national park," says Dana Reed, town manager in Bar Harbor.

But Reed says its not just Bar Harbor's inns, restaurants and shops that will take a hit, if sequestration takes effect. "It rolls downhill, or uphill," he says. "The state sales tax will be affected, gasoline taxes, all kinds of other revenues to the state, in addition to the impact on local business."

Reed says he's still optimistic politicians in Washington will reach a deal by Friday, but Durlin Lunt has a decidedly less rosy outlook. He says it's a disgrace that they haven't reached some kind of agreement already.

Photo by Todd M. Edgar, National Park Service.


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