December 4, 2013

LePage administration defends decision to move DHHS offices from Portland

Critics of the move stage a protest by bus, riding to the proposed new site near the airport.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Maine Senate President Justin Alfond rode bus No. 5 on Portland's Metro system Tuesday along with other politicians and protesters to see how long the bus ride would be from Portland to the proposed site of the DHHS offices in South Portland.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Thomas Ptacek of Homeless Voices for Justice and state Rep. Dick Farnsworth ride the No. 5 bus Tuesday as part of a protest.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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LePage, however, said public transportation provides sustainability to communities like Portland and South Portland.

“That’s why we dedicate significant municipal, state, and federal resources to public transportation,” he said. “With these resources, public officials design bus routes to accommodate the needs of their customers. This is certainly something I would expect from folks in the Portland region.”

Jennifer Smith, spokeswoman for the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, told the Press Herald that the state never intended to move its offices out of downtown Portland and that state officials last year engaged city officials and its current landlord, Fore River Co., to see if there was a way to remain at its current Marginal Way location.

Emails and memos provided by state officials show they met with Portland officials to discuss the bid process in the spring.

Also included in the correspondence is a July 3 email from Peter Quesada, the principal of Fore River Co., indicating that the two sides had begun to walk away from the prospect of extending the current lease on Marginal Way. City officials were copied on the correspondence, which began with Quesada writing, “I recall you clearly articulated goals to lower lease costs when we met a year or so ago, and I see that your size goals in the (request for proposals) ... are well beyond ... (what) we can offer at 161 Marginal Way.”

The state then requested proposals earlier this year and got four back: two in downtown Portland, one near Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland and the site near the airport. Using a scoring system that considered cost, location and other factors, the state ranked the airport location highest and awarded the bid.

Millett said the state could only work with the bids that came in.

“The opportunities for co-location were not as present in the city as we had hoped,” he said.

The state’s wish to consolidate services into a larger space while paying less rent is at the center of a dispute that has taken on political overtones.

Questions remain about the state’s ability to move into the parcel near the airport before its current lease expires Jan. 31, 2015.

ELC Management has an option to buy the parcel and is still negotiating terms of the lease with the state. The parcel is undeveloped and could face permitting delays. In his July 3 email, Quesada told state officials that the Jan. 31, 2015, date “could be an absolute, hard deadline” for the state to vacate the premises on Marginal Way.

State officials said Tuesday that they were negotiating terms of the lease with ELC Management, but hoped to pay less than $24 per square foot. Smith said the state was paying about $29 per square foot for the building at Marginal Way.

The 20-year lease would be worth about $43 million, pending a final agreement. Smith said it was not uncommon for the state to enter a rental agreement without first locking in the lease rate.

Staff Writer Steve Mistler contributed to this story. 

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:


Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Ashley Gorczyca of Homeless Voices for Justice, holding megaphone, leads a march up Elm Street to the bus stop where a group of protesters rode the No. 5 bus from Portland to the proposed site for DHHS offices in South Portland to highlight the length of the trip.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Maine Senate Ppresident Justin Alfond, center, addresses the media at the site of the proposed DHHS offices in South Portland. Alfond said he thinks the move is part of Gov. Paul LePage’s plan to make it more difficult for poor people to get needed services.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer


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