EDMUNDS — Gov. Paul LePage made a brief visit to a public boat launch at Cobscook Bay State Park on Thursday, using the opportunity to rail against the federal government for the shutdown that led to the park and a public boat launch being temporarily closed.
The governor alternately suggested the state park should be turned over to the federal government — it sits on the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge — and vowed never to allow it to be closed again.
The state park was the only one closed as a result of the federal government shutdown, said LePage, who offered a couple of wide-ranging points of view as he answered questions from reporters after mingling with local officials.
“There’s no reason in the world for doing it,” LePage said. “This park is under state lease. We have the responsibility for it. We spend the dollars. I’m amazed. I’m absolutely amazed that they chose this one to come in and interfere with a state park.
“As a matter of fact,” he added, “we have a lease, and I’m going to ask them to take it back. Because they might as well run it if they’re going to start doing what they’re doing.”
In response to a follow-up question from a reporter whether he meant the state would no longer operate the park, LePage said, “No. It’d be a federal park.”
However, minutes later, with Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith looking on, the governor vowed the park would not be closed again by federal action.
“They won’t close this park again,” said LePage. “I guarantee you that. The sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer of the state of Maine. I would authorize him to keep this place open.”
In fact, the governor predicted that federal lawmakers are headed for another budget stalemate and shutdown in a few months. “We’ll be right there again after the holidays. I have no confidence in this administration to do anything.” He criticized the Obama administration for its “vindictive approach.”
Peter Steele, the governor’s director of communications, said later Thursday that LePage did not mean the state would no longer operate the state park. “He meant that if the politicians in Washington keep shutting down the government and trying to close the park, then they may as well take it back,” said Steele in an email.
“Clearly, the park will remain under state control,” added Steele. “If the politicians in Washington shut down the federal government again in the near future, then he will make sure it stays open.”
“These fishermen are good, hardworking Mainers and Americans,” said LePage, referring to area residents prevented from using the boat launch located in the park during parts of the shutdown. “And all they want to do is go to work in the morning and earn a day’s living and go home at night. … I just find it insulting. This is not a Democrat or Republican thing. This is an arrogance of elected officials who go to Washington to escape the real world. … That, I find offensive.”
His administration never received any justification from federal officials for closing the park, said LePage, who made a brief appearance at the boat launch Thursday while visiting the region for other business.
Because the federal shutdown which started on Oct. 1 included the national refuge, officials with the U.S. Department of the Interior closed access to the state park and the boat ramp. Employees of the agency had been placing messages on vehicles parked at the boat ramp indicating the refuge was closed.
However, last week state and county officials announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is part of the Department of Interior, had agreed to allow access to the boat ramp although access to the state park would remain closed. This week, the federal agency briefly closed it again, placing temporary barricades at the entrance of the road leading to the boat ramp.
Bob and Judith Humphrey of the San Francisco Bay area stopped at the state park for lunch after it opened again Thursday.
The couple is on a cross-country trip that will last more than two months and had never been to Cobscook Bay State Park before.
“It’s so beautiful,” said Judith Humphrey.
When informed about the park’s recent closing at the hands of federal officials, she said, “That’s so wrong.”
Her husband criticized the federal government’s action to close the park as well as national parks, such as Acadia. “These are our lands, our parks,” he said.