Wetlands, traffic and time constraints are just three hurdles facing a controversial proposal for an office building in South Portland that would be leased to the Department of Health and Human Services and another state agency.

The proposal by ELC Management Inc. of Portland also faces mounting opposition because the state plans to move the Cumberland County offices of the DHHS and the Department of Labor out of downtown Portland.

And the project, near the Portland International Jetport, would need an easement from the city of Portland for a new access road connecting the property to Jetport Boulevard.

“Even though the land is in South Portland, the airport is owned by Portland and (Jetport Boulevard) is owned and maintained by the airport,” said Paul Bradbury, the airport’s director.

Bradbury said the Portland City Council likely would be the body that could grant such an easement.

Portland officials also would require the developer to make and pay for any road improvements, such as additional turning lanes, that would be needed to ensure uninterrupted travel to and from the airport, Bradbury said.

ELC Management, led by Eric L. Cianchette and Kenneth J. Cianchette, has about a year to get the project approved by several agencies and complete the three-story, 82,600-square-foot building. The firm hasn’t responded to repeated calls for comment.

Its lease proposal was chosen from among four that were submitted in response to a formal request by the state. The state plans to consolidate the two offices at one location.

The DHHS has until Jan. 31 to act on an option to stay in its current offices at 161 Marginal Way in Portland for another five years. Otherwise, it must prepare to move out by Jan. 31, 2015. The owner has indicated that he already has another tenant lined up.

The state has been paying about $29 per square foot for the office space on Marginal Way, and would have to pay more if the DHHS stays there, state officials said. The state has until Dec. 15 to negotiate lease terms with ELC Management. Officials said they hope to pay less than $24 per square foot at the site in South Portland. The 20-year lease would be worth about $43 million.

ELC Management has an option to buy the site on Jetport Boulevard, the airport’s main entrance at Exit 46 of the Maine Turnpike, between the Time Warner Cable building and the Hilton Garden Inn. The 9-acre parcel is part of a 14.6-acre lot owned by Brooklawn Memorial Park, a privately owned cemetery at 2002 Congress St. in Portland.

The project also would need permits from the South Portland Planning Board, state environmental and transportation officials and the Federal Aviation Administration.

ELC Management has yet to submit a formal proposal for public review, but representatives met Tuesday with staff members of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

The DEP would have as long as six months to review the proposal to ensure that it meets federal and state standards for wetlands protection and stormwater management, said Jessamine Logan, the DEP’s spokeswoman.

“Once the application is accepted as complete for processing by the department, we are obligated under statute to make a decision on it within 180 days,” Logan said.

The average processing time for such permits in the first half of 2013 was less than 60 days, she said.

Logan said the developers indicated that they plan to submit a proposal to the DEP before Christmas.

The project likely would affect less than 4,300 square feet of wetlands, which is the state’s threshold for significant remediation, said Steve Puleo, South Portland’s community planner.

But South Portland’s standards are much stricter, Puleo said, so ELC Management would be required to create a 25-foot-wide, planted buffer to prevent sediment runoff and destruction of any wetlands.

“We’re going to protect all remaining wetlands on the site,” Puleo said.

On Wednesday, the Conservation Law Foundation of Maine joined the chorus of concerns about the site. Sean Mahoney, executive vice president and director of the organization, wrote a letter to DEP officials asking to be kept informed about the review process.

“Because of our longstanding involvement with efforts to address pollution in the Long Creek watershed, we intend to subject this proposed project and its required permit application to strict scrutiny,” Mahoney wrote.

Logan said the foundation has been added to the list of interested parties for all notifications.

Puleo said the property is near, but not within, the Long Creek Watershed Management District.

The project also drew fire Wednesday from the Welcoming Immigrants Network, an organization that helps newcomers get a variety of support services in Greater Portland. Many immigrants live in downtown Portland and don’t have cars, said Cushman Anthony, one of the group’s founders.

“We implore (Gov. Paul LePage) and his department heads to abandon their plans to move DHHS to the area near the jetport and find a more appropriate location on or near the downtown Portland peninsula,” Cushman wrote in a news release. “To do otherwise would create significant hardships for these new residents.”

The governor’s office declined to comment.

Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said such arguments show mounting evidence that the proposed move to South Portland is a bad one. “It bolsters the argument that it’s the wrong site for clients and for the environment,” he said.

Alfond, who is a developer, also questioned whether ELC Management can complete the project on time without paying so much overtime that it drives up costs for taxpayers.

 

This story was updated at 10:14 a.m. Dec. 12, 2013, to reflect that the state is no longer considering a consolidation plan that would have moved a third agency from downtown Portland to a proposed office building in South Portland.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com

Twitter: @KelleyBouchard