The federally-commanded closure of Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge and Cobscook State Park is causing trouble for people in Washington County.
The U.S. Department of Fisheries and Wildlife ordered the closure of Moosehorn and Cobscook– a state-owned park located on leased federal lands – following the partial shutdown of the federal government. The closing of the park initially meant commercial fisherman and recreational users would not be able to use a public boat ramp in rural Edmund Township. But after push back from fishermen, who depend on the ramp for access to Cobscook Bay, the Maine Department of Marine Resources now says the federal closure will not impact the ramp.
Washington County officials have questioned whether the attempt to block access to the ramp was meant to cut costs or simply inflict pain.
Washington County Commissioner Chris Gardner learned of the shutdown from fishermen who received letters from the federal government notifying them that Moosehorn will be closed until the partial shutdown ends. A federal agent placed the letters on the fishermen’s vehicles while they were parked at the boat launch.
The letter from the Department of Interior stated: “Due to a lapse in appropriations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is currently shutdown. Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge is closed to the public for the duration of the shutdown and will reopen when legislation is passed.”
“The reality is that this is nuts,” said Gardner. “I’m not going to stand by and allow the foolishness that’s going on in DC to affect the people in Washington County.” He said the county funds part of the ramp’s maintenance and it should not be closed because of the chaos in the federal government.
“Left, right or center – the dysfunction that we’re seeing in the federal government cannot affect the men and woman going to work on the water, especially when it’s a symbolic closure,” he said. “There are no services being offered there – It’s a boat ramp and parking lot.”
Gardner said the closure of the Edmund Township boat ramp fits a national pattern, where the national government is going out of its way to make the shutdown uncomfortable.
“NPR is still on the air, but we’re going to shut down a boat ramp in rural Maine?” he said. “Whether it’s the Amber Alert site being taken down or the WWII monument being barricaded, there seems to be an effort to inflict pain.”
Calls placed to the U.S. Department of Interior’s Baring Plantation office went to a voicemail message that said the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge office has closed due to the federal shutdown.
Director of Communications for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry John Bott confirmed that the federal government had ordered the shutdown of Cobscook and the Edmund boat launch. He said the state has communicated with the federal government and will be sending out a notice to fishermen in the area that the launch will remain open.
“There has been some confusion among the public as to whether or not state parks are closed,” said Bott. “All state parks with the exception of Cobscook are open as normal,” he said.
As for the practical impact of closing Cobscook, Bott said any recreational activity at Cobscook is now banned, though he was unaware of any attempt by the federal government to enforce the prohibition.
He said the four state workers located at the park have been redeployed on nearby projects until the shutdown ends.
Although fishermen have been spared the federal government’s wrath, elementary school children have not been so lucky.
A spokeswoman from Edmund Consolidated Schools confirmed that the federal government prevented elementary school cross country runners from passing through Cobscook for an annual race held on Oct. 2. The race was instead held on the school’s campus.
Next week is the regional championship, the spokeswoman said, which traditionally takes place at Moosehorn. Unless federal lawmakers resolve the shutdown, the race will be held at a secondary location.
Bott said attempts to find an alternative location have thus far proven unsuccessful.
Rep. Lawrence E. Lockman (R-Amherst), who represents Edmund Township in the Legislature, said closing the park was an unreasonable act that has cost the federal government more money than allowing it to remain open.
“The Obama administration is punishing fisherman in rural Maine so it can score cheap political points and protect the disaster that is Obamacare,” said Lockman. “There is no reason on God’s green earth that this boat ramp should be closed – it’s a parking lot.”
“Consider this: If the feds are this vindictive, this petty and asinine, this willing to inflict pain on working Americans with things like parks and boat ramps, imagine what will happen when they control our health care,” he said.
Maine Wire Reporter