PORTLAND, Maine (AP)&nbsp- An investor group that includes former Defense Secretary William Cohen has emerged as a potential buyer of Blethen Maine Newspapers, owner of the Portland Press Herald, Maine Sunday Telegram and other newspapers in the state.

Blethen Maine Chairman Frank Blethen announced Wednesday that his company has signed a letter of intent that gives Maine Media Investments exclusive rights over a limited time period to negotiate terms of a sale.

In addition to Cohen, Maine Media Investments includes businessman Robert Baldacci, brother of Maine Gov. John Baldacci developer Michael Liberty and Richard Connor, a Bangor native who is editor and publisher of the Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) Times Leader.

“This locally backed ownership group would provide a favorable outcome for the community, our readers, our employees and the Blethen family,” Blethen said in a statement.

Blethen Maine is owned by The Seattle Times, which put it up for sale in March. The company cited declining revenue and outstanding debt, which have forced a series of layoffs and job cuts.

In addition to the Portland newspapers, Blethen Maine properties include the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville, MaineToday.com and The Coastal Journal, a weekly in Bath.

Blethen said negotiations with other potential buyers are unlikely to move forward because of a disagreement about whether a new owner would have to abide by terms of the current union contract with the Portland Newspaper Guild. That issue is the focus of a pending lawsuit in federal court.

Connor, who has 40 years of experience in the newspaper business, led an investor group that purchased the Wilkes-Barre paper in 2006 from The McClatchy Co. for $65 million.

Cohen, a U.S. senator from Maine from 1979 to 1997, went on to become secretary of defense during President Bill Clinton’ s second term and now heads a business consulting group in Washington, D.C.

“We hope we can reach an agreement that allows us to continue the heritage of strong Maine journalism and public service to the communities served by these newspapers and the state,” Cohen said in a statement.