Updated at 3:04 p.m. with response from MDOT.

Maine Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt has informed the Legislature’s transportation committee that he won’t be available to explain the state’s recent decision to subcontract operations and maintenance of the Casco Bay Bridge to a private firm in Florida.

Bernhardt had originally indicated that he would appear before the committee on Thursday. However, according to several members of the committee, Bernhardt emailed lawmakers Wednesday to say he had a scheduling conflict. Initially it was unclear if Bernhardt’s inability to attend the meeting stems from Gov. Paul LePage’s new protocols that restrict the appearance of agency heads to appear before legislative committees. It’s no secret that those rules are related to the governor’s estrangement from the Legislature and he’s said publicly that he won’t subject his commissioners to what he views as politically-motivated grill sessions staged by Democrats.

Ted Talbot, a spokesman at MDOT, said the governor didn’t restrict Bernhardt from attending. He said the transportation chief rescheduled the meeting for next week.

“It’s his intent to go next week,” Talbot said. “He wants to go. The only reason he canceled is because he would only be able to give the committee 15 or 20 minutes before he heads to another afternoon engagement. He wants to make sure that he’s there long enough to answer all of their questions and concerns.”

Democrats, who reacted before Bernhardt expressed his intent to reschedule, were not happy that he cancelled.


“He told me as recently as Monday that he would see us on Thursday,” said Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham. “All of a sudden he’s got this longstanding commitment and we’re interrupting his schedule. If that’s the case, I hope he’ll reschedule.”

Democrats on the transportation committee have raised a number of questions about MDOT’s decision to enter a $3.8 million contract with Miami-based FDI Services Inc. Leading the list, they say, is the fact that the agency never discussed the reasons for privatizing operations of the bridge. MDOT has said that the move wasn’t geared toward cost-savings, rather a re-prioritizing of the state workforce. If that’s the case, Democrats argue, what’s the point of privatization?

Others have raised concerns about the contract and how FDI Services’ bid came in so low. According to MDOT, the only other bid came from Maine-based Cianbro. Cianbro, which helped construct the Casco Bay Bridge, posted a bid of over $7 million, according to MDOT bid data posted online.

Diamond has been the most vocal critic of the privatization deal. In a Press Herald column posted Tuesday, he wrote, “This is the first time the state has privatized such an operation, and the deal-making lacked the appropriate level of transparency. I serve on the Transportation Committee. Not only were we never briefed on this deal, we weren’t given reasons why the deal should have been made in the first place.”

The transportation committee will still convene on Thursday and Diamond said he plans to discuss the bridge issue even if Bernhardt isn’t there.

“Hopefully somebody (at MDOT) is listening and can answer our questions,” he said.


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