Gov. Paul LePage has pulled his support from The Friends of Colonial Pemaquid’s effort to take over the day-to-day management of the Colonial Pemaquid State Historic Site, saying in a letter to the nonprofit that an agreement is “off the table.”
“I regret to inform you I am no longer in support of a lease agreement between the state and Friends of Colonial Pemaquid for the management of the Colonial Pemaquid State Historic Site,” LePage wrote in a Feb. 14 letter to the nonprofit.
For more than a year, Friends of Colonial Pemaquid has been talking with state officials about the potential for the nonprofit to lease the site and take over its operation and maintenance. The site includes a replica of Fort William Henry, a fort house, a museum dedicated to the history of Pemaquid, and a burial ground with gravestones dating to the early 1700s.
The Bureau of Parks and Public Lands, within the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, owns and manages the site with support from The Friends of Colonial Pemaquid.
In the Feb. 14 letter, the governor expressed concerns about Friends of Colonial Pemaquid’s approach to the negotiation process.
One of the obstacles to the lease was a citizen support agreement required by the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
The Friends of Colonial Pemaquid offered amendments to the citizen support agreement, as the standard form didn’t specifically fit the mission of the group, Masterson said.
“We made suggestions that we felt fit the needs of the group better,” Masterson said. “What they were asking us to sign was a standard form. It wasn’t specific to this site.”
The nonprofit mailed the agreement with amendments to the department Jan. 10, and sent a letter and a copy of the agreement to the governor.
The governor objected to the amendments and the manner in which they were made.
“It is concerning that you made changes to the draft citizen support organization agreement without tracking them and discussing them with (the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry),” LePage wrote. “The department had to do a line-by-line comparison of the draft you signed with the draft they originally sent you. In addition to wasting their time, (The Friends of Colonial Pemaquid) made changes that are unacceptable to the department and to me.”
Friends of Colonial Pemaquid President Don Loprieno, Vice President Dennis May, and board member and former site manager Barry Masterson originally met with LePage in January 2016 to discuss the possibility of a lease.
Friends of Colonial Pemaquid sees three major benefits that the site and the local area would see as a result of the lease: the creation of an “economic engine” for the peninsula, the development of a vibrant educational destination, and the revitalization of plans to build a replica 17th-century village.
A lease agreement allowing a nonprofit to oversee a state historic site is not unheard of. The state has similar arrangements with the Friends of Fort Knox for Fort Knox and the Penobscot Narrows Observatory in Prospect.
At the meeting, the governor was “receptive and supportive,” Loprieno said.
After the meeting with the governor, The Friends of Colonial Pemaquid entered negotiations with the state regarding the lease. The conversation stalled due to a disagreement between the nonprofit and the state regarding lease payments from The Contented Sole, a restaurant on the property, as well as the issues with the citizen support agreement.
Loprieno and Masterson collected letters from area businesses and town officials and sent them to LePage in an effort to demonstrate local support for the lease agreement. The Bristol, Damariscotta, Newcastle and South Bristol boards of selectmen all wrote letters in support of the nonprofit, as did the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners and the Damariscotta Region Chamber of Commerce.
LePage said it was “inappropriate” for the group to spend time asking businesses and organizations to send him letters rather than negotiating with the state.
Loprieno said the sides “have not been to the negotiating table since November.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry declined comment.
The Friends of Colonial Pemaquid may still be present at the site and assist the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry in promoting the site, but only if it signs a citizen support agreement before March 15.
The group runs summer programs, including re-enactments and a lecture series.
After receiving LePage’s letter, the group is “considering its options,” Loprieno said, including talking with Sen. Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, and Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle.
“We’re discouraged, but we’re not defeated,” Loprieno said.