Five firms seek to market Sears Island
By Tanya Mitchell
The Republican Journal Reporter

AUGUSTA(): A company could be marketing Sears Island to potential port developers within the next month.


Department of Transportation spokesman Mark Latti said Tuesday, April 14, that five companies responded to the state's nationwide request in mid-March for proposals from consulting firms.

Latti said April 10 was the deadline for proposals. "Now we're reviewing those proposals to make sure they meet all of the requirements in the requests for proposals," said Latti. "Then by the end of the month we'll select up to three finalists, who will be interviewed."

Latti said depending on the length of the interview and selection process, a consultation firm could be named in the coming weeks. Once the state chooses a firm, Latti said marketing the island to potential port developers could begin immediately.

Latti said taking this approach to attract interest in the development of a port is unique. "That's why we were pleased to get responses from throughout the U.S.," he said. "The idea was that we wanted to get applicants with experience in this kind of thing, we wanted to get applicants from a wide geographic spectrum, and we hit both of those targets."

DOT Commissioner David Cole announced the state's intentions to advertise for a marketing expert in early March at a meeting of the Legislature's Transportation Committee.

That announcement followed the committee's approval of a joint use plan for the 941-acre island, which divided Sears Island into two parts — about 340 acres for a potential port, and the remaining 600 acres to be placed in a conservation easement.

The selected marketing firm would be paid up to $100,000 for its work; Latti said the money comes from the Maine Port Authority budget.

A marketing firm would likely draft a prospectus of the potential port site, identify possible port developers and present information about the island to the identified parties.

The state, said Latti, has not received questions or concerns from state officials or the public regarding the state's proactive approach to marketing a port site in this economy. "That hasn't been much of an issue," he said.

Bringing a marketing firm on board is the first step in a long process. While developing a port at Sears Island is DOT's goal, Latti said it's too early to tell if a port would come to fruition.

"There's a lot of steps between now and before a port is developed," said Latti, noting the economy, response from developers and permitting are among the factors that would determine whether a port is in the cards for Sears Island.

In addition, three lawsuits are pending in which petitioners challenge the conservation easement between DOT and Maine Coast Heritage Trust, claiming it violates state law as well as Maine's Sensible Transportation Planning Act.

The petitioners in those suits are Harlan McLaughlin of Searsport, Ron Huber of Rockland and Douglas Watts of Augusta.

March 24, DOT attorney Rebecca Farnum and law firm Thompson and Bowie filed motions in the three county superior courts to consolidate the suits and dismiss all three.

March 31, Huber filed a motion in Knox County Superior Court seeking the exclusion of DOT’s responses on the basis they were not submitted to the courts in a timely manner.

April 13, Huber submitted his response to DOT's motion to dismiss, in which he asked the court carry out his request for review of final agency action and invalidate the conservation easement.

Huber offered several supporting statements, including his claim that because DOT has provided no recourse for the public with respect to the easement, DOT's action granting the easement can be considered final agency action despite claims to the contrary from DOT lawyers.

Huber used the state's ongoing search for a marketing expert, and it's expenditure of $100,000, as demonstrative of his argument.