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Questions Raised About Acadia National Park Concessions Contract
11/07/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

Maine's congressional delegation is raising questions about a recent decision to not renew the contract of the longtime concessioneer in Acadia National Park. Acadia Corporation, which has run park concessions since 1933, learned in September that a new, 10-year deal would go, instead, to a New Mexico-based firm. U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have written a letter to the head of the Park Service demanding a top-to-bottom review of the selection process that led to the change. And Representatives Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud are calling on a House committee to revisit the decision - and the Park Service's criteria for awarding concessions contracts.

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Acadia Concessions Contract Under Scrutiny
Originally Aired: 11/7/2013 5:30 PM

Maine's two U.S. House members say they've gotten lots of calls from constituents and supporters of Acadia Corporation in and around Bar Harbor. And most of them, says Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, make the same basic point.

"It just seems wrong to be giving up that contract to another company that's based halfway around the country," Pingree says.

In 1998, Congress passed the National Park Service Concessions Management Improvement Act. The law now requires a competitive bidding process for concessions contracts. Selection criteria include the financial capabilities of the applicant and consideration of which concessioneer would do the best job protecting natural cultural resources and providing value to the visitor.

Pingree says Acadia Corporation met these standards in the years prior to 1998, and has continued meeting them since then, by using a locally-driven business model.

"A huge part the national parks is the impact they have on the local community," Pingree says. "You know, this has been a company that's done business responsibly with the park, employed local people, been a local business."

But this time around, Acadia Corporation's local ties - and lengthy and successful track record - weren't enough to sway decision makers at the park service. Next year, the concessions contract is scheduled to go to Ortega National Parks, a subsidiary of the New Mexico-based firm Dawnland, LLC.

According to its Web site, the firm has nine additional concessions contracts at national parks and recreation areas across the country. An e-mail to the firm seeking comment for this story was not returned by airtime. In an interview with MPBN in September, the firm's president, Shane Ortega, vowed to re-hire anyone currently working for Acadia Corporation and to continue working with local vendors.

"We're going to at least double the numbers of local vendors, local farms, local artists that the concession is sourcing from right now," Ortega said.

Oretga's previous concessions acquisitions, though, haven't been without controversy. In San Francisco, the longtime concessioneer at Stow Lake Boat House in Golden Gate Park sued the city and Ortega, alleging corrupt contracting, when city officials awarded the contract to the New Mexico company in 2010. All new national park concessions contracts are subject to a 60-day congressional review.

"I want to see that whole process, how that went through," says Maine Congressman Mike Michaud. Michaud says he's concerned that Ortega low-balled its bid at Acadia, promising to run the concessions more cheaply than they'll be able to when the company begins operating in Maine next year.

"I would suspect that there was some flaws in that process, and we can correct those flaws and that we can reverse that contract," Michaud says.

A call to the National Park Service for comment on this story was not returned by air time. Both Michaud and Chellie Pingree also want the House Natural Resources Committee to review the overall procedures for awarding concessions contracts at National Parks.

And Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins have sent their own letter to the head of the park service, calling for a similar top-to-bottom review.


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