January 1, 2014

Maine eager to resolve obstacle to DHHS move

The state AG has until Jan. 24 to file documents countering a claim that officials scored bids unfairly.

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

State officials hope to speed up what could be a months-long court appeal of a controversial lease proposal that would require the Department of Health and Human Services to relocate from Portland to South Portland.

click image to enlarge

People line up outside the DHHS Building on Marginal Way in Portland before it opens in this October 2010 photo. DHHS offices have been on Marginal Way for the past 20 years and have been in the city even longer.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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The chosen proposal, submitted by ELC Management Inc. of Portland, now calls for a two-story, 75,000-square-foot office building at 151 Jetport Boulevard in South Portland, according to plans filed last week with the city of South Portland. Earlier documents described a larger, three-story building.

The state has an interest in avoiding delays because it must vacate DHHS’s current location at 161 Marginal Way in Portland by Jan. 31, 2015. That gives ELC Management about a year to get its project approved and built.

The state’s selection of ELC Management’s proposal is being challenged in Cumberland County Superior Court by Tom Toye, a Cape Elizabeth resident who submitted a competing lease proposal for existing office space on Lancaster Street in Portland, near the current DHHS and Department of Labor offices.

In a notice filed with the court on Monday, the Maine Attorney General’s Office disputes Toye’s claim that state officials unfairly scored and chose ELC Management’s proposal over three others that were submitted in response to the state’s advertised request.

State lawyers have until Jan. 24 to file backup documents that show the four proposals were scored objectively based on the requirements of the request for proposals, said William Laubenstein III, assistant attorney general. After that, time allotted for motions could take nearly three months before the case gets before a judge, under the state’s rules for civil procedure.

“We’re looking to move the case forward as quickly as possible,” Laubenstein said Tuesday. “If we follow the statutory process exactly, it could take months.”

Laubenstein also disputes Toye’s claim that he was entitled to a hearing on his initial appeal, which was denied by the Bureau of General Services.

Laubenstein said the lawsuit wouldn’t preclude the state from finalizing a lease with ELC Management, but no agreement has been signed.

Many Portland officials and social service advocates have criticized the plan, saying the location four miles from the current offices near downtown Portland would make it difficult for low-income people to access services.

The Cumberland County offices of the DHHS have been on Marginal Way since the early 1990s. The state also plans to move the Cumberland County offices of the Department of Labor from Lancaster Street to the building in South Portland.

ELC Management, led by Eric and Kenneth Cianchette, is a party of interest in Toye’s lawsuit, identified as Jetport State Building LLC. The Cianchettes haven’t responded to repeated calls for comment. They offered the state a lease for at least 15 years that would cost $34 million.

On Tuesday, the Department of Environmental Protection formally designated ELC Management’s site permit application as complete, triggering a potential 180-day review period for impacts on wetlands and stormwater. Most reviews are completed within 60 days, said DEP spokeswoman Jessamine Logan.

The project is scheduled to go before the South Portland Planning Board on Jan. 28, said Tex Haeuser, the city’s planning and development director.

ELC Management is seeking a waiver because a small portion of the building’s parking lot would infringe on the 25-foot-wide upland buffer that the city requires near wetlands, according to the application for site plan review.

The proposed office building and 452 parking spaces would cover most of the 10-acre site, which is on an access road to the Portland International Jetport and near a Hilton Garden Inn and Exit 46 of the Maine Turnpike. The parking area’s size is required by the state, said Steve Puleo, South Portland’s community planner, in a letter to staff members.

The project would be built to meet Federal Aviation Administration regulations and would include porous pavement to control and capture stormwater runoff, and a subsurface detention and treatment pond, Puleo said.

The application includes copies of an agreement to buy the land from Brooklawn Memorial Park and easements for utilities and curb cuts onto Jetport Boulevard, which is owned by the city of Portland. The sale price appears to have been redacted from the agreement.

State officials have until Jan. 31 to act on an option to renew the DHHS’s lease on Marginal Way, which would come with a rent increase.

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

kbouchard@pressherald.com

Twitter: @KelleyBouchard

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