Blethen Maine Newspapers, owner of the Portland Press Herald, the Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta and the Morning Sentinel in Waterville, announced Thursday that the company is negotiating for the sale of its publications to Maine Media Investments LLC, an investment group headed by Bangor native and former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen.

Other partners in the investment firm, which was formed for the purpose of completing the acquisition, include Portland entrepreneur Michael Liberty Portland real estate developer and Bangor native Robert Baldacci Jr., the older brother of Gov. John Baldacci and Bangor native and career newspaperman Richard L. Connor. Also joining the partnership is Secretary Cohen’ s son Kevin Cohen, who with his father is co-founder of Doubleman Media, a media and technology consulting firm.

Frank Blethen, chairman of Blethen Maine Newspapers, said in a prepared statement that the companies have signed a letter of intent, giving them a limited time to negotiate a purchase price and other terms of the sale. No specific timeline has been disclosed, but the statement said the companies hope to proceed “as quickly as possible.” The letter of intent excludes other potential buyers until the talks with Maine Media Investments are concluded.

Cohen declined on Thursday to speak with a reporter, but in the prepared statement he said the group hopes to “continue the heritage of strong Maine journalism and public service to the communities served by these newspapers and to the state.”

Connor, who has built a career in journalism, is the owner and publisher of the Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) Times Leader and former publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press, where he now serves as chairman of the advisory board. He was born in Bangor, attended local schools, and maintains a summer home in Dedham. In the prepared statement, he said the Blethen papers are “terrific newspapers with talented people and they serve dynamic communities. And we are confident that the sum total of our backgrounds and set of skills can help continue and enhance their viability for many generations.”

The Blethen Maine papers are owned by The Seattle Times, which purchased them from Guy Gannett Communications in 1998. A story in the Seattle Times at the time of the acquisition estimated the value of the Maine papers at $170 million to $200 million. In March of this year, citing declining revenues and outstanding debts, the Seattle Times announced the Blethen Maine publications would be sold, including the Web site and a number of smaller publications in addition to the dailies.

In the prepared statement issued Thursday, Frank Blethen expressed optimism about the negotiations with Maine Media Investments, saying that acquisition by the locally backed firm would “provide a favorable outcome to our community, our readers, our employees and the Blethen family.” Blethen also said the investment firm would be more likely than some other buyers to move forward with the purchase despite pending legal action affecting company employees unionized through the Portland Newspaper Guild.