Bangor to reconsider fire boat purchase after no in-state firms solicited

Posted July 05, 2011, at 1:33 p.m.
Last modified July 05, 2011, at 6:18 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — City Councilor Geoff Gratwick said he can live with the fact that the city sometimes must hire an out-of-state company for certain expenditures.

The recent council vote to negotiate with a Pennsylvania-based company for management services of a new arena and convention center is a good example. There are simply no Maine companies that have the experience and networking abilities of Global Spectrum, a subsidiary of Comcast.

But in a state that has more than 80 boat-building firms, Gratwick said he could not understand how none were contacted about crafting a fire boat for the Bangor Fire Department.

Gratwick cast the lone dissenting vote last week when the council approved the purchase of a $184,434 boat from Northwind Marine, a Seattle-based builder.

He lost that battle, but the war is not over.

Shortly after the vote, the lack of a Maine-based company in the mix still bothered Gratwick. So he successfully petitioned City Council Chairwoman Susan Hawes to have the vote reconsidered.

A special meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday.

“The winning bid was a very nice boat, but if ever there was a place where we need to make sure our business goes to a Maine company, this is it,” said Gratwick, who owns a boat that he spends time on in the warmer months.

The Bangor Fire Department has been saving federal homeland security grant funds for the last three years to purchase a 25-foot aluminum-hulled boat that could help officers fight fires in either the Kenduskeag Stream or the Penobscot River. The boat also would be used for water rescues, according to Assistant Chief Scott Bostock, and would be unlike anything else the fire department has employed.

City Manager Catherine Conlow said the purchase did not go out to bid, which happens on nearly every expense over $25,000. Instead, the fire department relied on qualified builders listed on the website of the federal General Services Administration and generated quotes accordingly since the boat’s funds also were federal.

Of the three quotes chosen, none were from Maine companies.

Those quotes — two from Washington state, one from Arkansas — ranged from $184,434 to $191,670 and included the boat, the fire pumping system and communications devices.

Whether the city will put the purchase formally out to bid is up to the council. The city also has the option of buying a Maine-made boat and then outfitting it with fire suppression equipment from a different company.

“I think [councilors] want to see if there [is] an opportunity to buy a vessel in Maine,” Conlow said. “But it is kind of a specialty boat, so I’m not sure what the options are.”

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