June 21, 2018
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Any Maine boat builders out there? Bangor council asks

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — City councilors asked staff this week to go back to the drawing board to see if a Maine-based company can be found to build a specialized boat for the Bangor Fire Department.

In one of the closest and most contentious votes in the last several months, the Council voted 5-4 at a special meeting Wednesday to reconsider last week’s vote that approved the purchase of a boat from a Seattle-based builder.

Although last week’s vote was 8-1, the lone dissenter, Councilor Geoff Gratwick, persuaded Council Chairwoman Susan Hawes to have the vote reconsidered.

This time around, Charles Longo, Gerry Palmer, Nelson Durgin and Rick Bronson joined Gratwick in voting to start the process over.

Gratwick said he had no problem with the council selecting Northwind Marine of Seattle to build an estimated $185,000 boat, but he wanted to make sure the city exhausted all local options first. In a trade such as boat-building, in which Maine excels, Gratwick said it’s a slap in the face for the city not to reach out to at least a few firms.

Bronson joked Wednesday that a company such as Bath Iron Works is probably too big and Old Town Canoe too small to craft such a boat.

“But there is probably something in between,” he said before voting to reconsider last week’s decision.

Councilor Pat Blanchette said the council was setting a dangerous precedent in voting to reconsider.

“We made a decision. Why do we need to flip-flop?” she asked.

Members of the council’s finance committee will discuss the purchase at their next meeting.

Whether a Maine builder can be found remains to be seen. Fire Chief Jeffrey Cammack said Wednesday that the 25-foot boat sought by his department is extremely specialized.

“I’m unaware of anyone [in Maine] that can give us an off-the-shelf design of what we need,” the chief said.

The aluminum-hulled vessel, which will be bought with federal homeland security grant funds, will help firefighters with calls in either the Kenduskeag Stream or the Penobscot River. The boat will be outfitted with fire suppression and high-tech navigation equipment and also would be used for water rescues.

When the department began looking for options, the purchase did not go out to bid, something that typically happens with large municipal purchases.

Instead, Cammack said his staff relied on vendors that were approved by the General Services Administration, an independent agency of the U.S. government that supports various federal agencies.

Of the three quotes that were considered, two companies were based in Washington state and the other was from Arkansas.

Councilor Cary Weston and others wondered Wednesday why in-state firms were not more aggressive in seeking business from the federal government.

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