PROSPECT, Maine — While some in Maine — including the governor — are in favor of outsourcing management of the popular Fort Knox State Historic Site, others worry that the move would be the first step down a slippery slope to privatize all state parks.

“Do you really want to privatize state parks?” MaryAnne Turowski, the director of politics and legislation for the Maine State Employees Association, said Tuesday. “I think it’s a precursor to more. I think it opens the door for future considerations of privatization.”

Gov. Paul LePage is expected to sign a four-year contract by the end of the week between the nonprofit group the Friends of Fort Knox and the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, his spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said Tuesday.

The state will continue to own the 19th century fort that overlooks the Penobscot Narrows, but the day-to-day management of the seasonal site would be taken over by the Friends group. In exchange, they would receive 85 percent of the admission fees, according to Maine Department of Conservation Commissioner Bill Beardsley.

Last season, the Friends of Fort Knox had a 50-50 admissions fee split with the state, which totaled about $69,000 for each, according to state officials. The state’s share is deposited into the General Fund.

“Let’s give it a try, and see how it works,” Beardsley said. “There’s nothing beyond that. We’re not looking for a trend.”

He said that Maine parks do not have a “one-size-fits-all” management practice, with six different approaches that have been developed over the years.

“I’m not looking at privatizing or not privatizing,” he said.

The move at Fort Knox would save the state about $40,000, Will Harris, the director of the Maine Department of Conservation’s Bureau of Parks and Lands, said last week. Staffing and operations for Fort Knox costs about $110,000 annually, he said.

The Friends group has contracted with the state for several years to provide some services at Fort Knox. So far, those services have included collecting admissions fees, giving interpretive tours, running the gift shop and staffing the observation tower at the Penobscot Narrows Bridge. If the governor signs the new contract, those services will expand to include taking charge of the fort’s maintenance and operations management.

Harris said that visitors to the park should not notice any difference in their experience at the fort. He also said that no state employees will lose their jobs over the change.

Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, the lead Democrat on the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, said he prefers to withhold judgement on the move until he sees the details in the contract. He has asked to see it a few times now, he said.

McCabe said the Legislature turned down an earlier effort to privatize the fort over ownership issues. According to Maine statute, the state can lease the operations of the fort with the consent of the governor and the commissioner of the Department of Conservation. The Legislature will not vote on the current plan.

But McCabe, who is still interested in park management, said that in the past, the state has been “very involved” with the Friends of Fort Knox.

“It was a good set of checks and balances,” McCabe said. “I’m not clear how that will work with the new contract.”

Efforts Tuesday to obtain the contract were unsuccessful. Bennett said that she wants LePage, who is out of state, to look at it before releasing it to the media.

“There’s nothing that we’re hiding in this,” she said. “We’re all about transparency.”

But not everyone is convinced. Turowski brought up the fact that the president of the board of directors of the Friends of Fort Knox is Carol Weston, a six-term state senator who now is working as the state director for the Maine branch of Americans for Prosperity.

The conservative advocacy group was founded with support from billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, and lobbies for lower taxes and less government regulation and spending.

Turowski suggested that privatizing the operations of a state historic site fits into the goals of Americans for Prosperity.

“This may be a unique situation. The Friends do great work. They’ve done a lot for the park over the years,” she said. “But what’s the next step? Is it some group that’s not a ‘friend,’ but is a management corporation? Does this open the door to possibilities we’re not even thinking about right now?”

Weston wrote in an email Tuesday afternoon that the Friends of Fort Knox board had discussed the possibility of taking on more responsibility to support the fort before she became a board member.

“This was a unanimous decision of a very diverse board to increase their support to the Fort and our partnership with the [Department of Conservation],” Weston wrote.

Other states, including New Jersey, have seen recent efforts to privatize some state-owned assets. Gov. Chris Christie last fall announced a long-term funding strategy that included leasing golf courses, privatizing park concessions and contracting lifeguard services at some parks.

He said that the key to keeping these parks and assets open was to keep them capable of generating self-sustaining revenue.

But McCabe said that the mission of Maine’s state parks isn’t exactly to operate as a business would.

“Our state park system relies on some parks doing better than others,” he said. “Each of our parks is a different experience.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

45 replies on “Fort Knox deal first step down slippery slope to privatizing state parks, critics say”

  1. Privatization of anything and everything is the acquisitive billionaire’s dream; on the other hand, it is often a nightmare for the People.  Theodore Roosevelt created the National Park system (and the FBI to protect it) because private owners were, for their own monetary gain, destroying the beauty of the land, often by illegal and despicable means.

    1. Spruce where do you come up with this stuff? The FBI was “created” to “protect” the National Park Service????? Would you care to source that. I did and found no references at all to substantiate your claim.

      1. I don’t appreciate your unprofessional and petulant tone.  Because this is an interesting topic, and people might be interested in general, I am going to provide the details.

        The book is “Enemies:  A History of the FBI,” by Tim Weiner.  See the discussion starting on page 7 and after, which starts this way:

        The Republican [Theodore] Roosevelt wanted to fight plutocrats as well as anarchists.  Their plunder of oil, coal, minerals, and timber on federal lands appalled him, in his role as the founder of America’s national parks.  Corporate criminals, carving up public property for their private profit, paid bribes to politicians to protect their land racket…”

        The discussion goes on to make the case.

        1. The 1st national Park was Yellowstone in 1872 by U.S.Grant and the park came under the control of the Military until 1917.  The FBI was formed in 1908 and primarily involved with the Railroad due to interstate interests.  Crimes in one state could not be investigated by law enforcement of another.

          Be careful of what you read…it’s not always totally true.

          1. I appreciate your information and think it is valid–at the same time, Roosevelt has been described as “The Father of Conservation,” in part because he strengthened the national park service greatly, including new presidential powers of protection and expansion:

            http://www.nps.gov/history/logcabin/html/tr5.html

            To call him the founder of the “national parks” (note the plural) is not a stretch.  Also, Roosevelt was indeed ” appalled” by private rape of public land–and that did fuel his drive to create the FBI.  You give no reason to think otherwise, and no references.

  2. If the numbers work out, this is probably a good move. The primary objections I see from the “opposition” are some imaginary connection to the “Koch Brothers” and biased objections from the  Maine State Employees Association.

  3. They will probably do a more conscientious job. Good luck, looks good and can always be reversed.

  4. “But McCabe said that the mission of Maine’s state parks isn’t exactly to operate as a business would.”

    Thank you, Mr. McCabe for summarizing the inherent problem with the state running just about anything.  There is little motivation to draw people to a facility and hence little motivation for the employees to perform at a high level because they know they’re going to be funded regardless of their performance.

    1.  And the other reasoning is that everything should pay for itself. To pay for gun crimes, maybe a  $1000 fee when you buy it. For those who fly, hundreds of dollars for each ticket. For those who drive, higher excise taxes to pay for the snow plows as well as construction of new roads. Where does it end?

      In fact, Mr. McCabe made a comment that some things are to be provided for, even if you can’t make the numbers add up. You can stretch it to what you want, but reading it that way must make for an exciting world.

      Tax abatements for industry? Never, they should pay the freight too. Coast Guard rescues? Not until the victims pay. State Police murder investigations? Naw, they never break even. Send the wardens out to find a missing kid? Not until Mom and Dad pony up the cost. Where does it end?

      Personally, I think the Fort Knox deal sounds like it might work. There is a dedicated, active, local group that seems ready to help. There might not be the same kind of group for other parks, and we should still fund them even if they don’t make a penny.

      1. I agree with a lot of what you say about this slippery slope. 
        But the thing is this wonderful group of re-enactors, and historical site guides is being made into something different, something more like the corporate model, on the assumption that is what they … everything and everyone… should be.  That is being done by the whom, the brick and mortar old corporate structure  like the Koch Bros. reactionaries whose needs are to maintain their power by maintaining the 2oth  Century structures it is based upon  ? 

        1. I’m certain George Soros would do a much better job of throwing  his millions around then?

        2. Not to worry, that group of re-enactors forced out of the fort will not dishonor their ancestors’ memories by being made into some corporate stooges. The reenactors  who are backing this action are intimately involved with  the FOFK with some having been previously paid as well as formerly and presently on BOD.  

  5. Great!!! This could be just the beginning. The legislature should look at DOT and the ferry system as the next candidate for privatization.

  6. Where is the contract and how is it worded? The public should know the details BEFORE it is signed. Notice that in this article, McCabe said he had asked to see the contract “a few times now”  but the contract is elusive. What’s up?  If there is nothing to hide, show us the details.

    1. It’s being keep secret until the governor returns from another out of state visit!!! I particularly liked Bennet’s comment, “we’re all about transparency”. So when do we as tax payers get to see that!!! It ain’t happened yet!!!

    2. Just out of curoristy, how many contracts did Governor Baldacci sign without releasing them to the public?

      1. Are you perhaps referring to the three-decades contract he signed with Casella for the Rape of Juniper Ridge?

        1. I am referring to any contract that may have been signed without releasing the details of the contract to the public.

    3. Exactly.    Where are the specifics?    Is there a spread sheet or budget proposal from the Friends of Fort Knox?   If there is,  what does it say?   Who approves a proposed budget,  who is on the payroll and how much are they going to be paid?    How much is the board making?,  if anything?      How can state employees retain their jobs and what capacity or authority over the operations will they exercise?

      There’s alot of stuff still unknown,  so it’s difficult to formulate whether or not this is a good thing or not.   I will say that anything that the Koch brothers are involved in,  must have something to do with money.

  7. ” Staffing and operations for Fort Knox costs about $110,000 annually … 
    Last season, the Friends of Fort Knox had a 50-50 admissions fee split with the state, which totaled about $69,000 for each… ”

    I don’t understand conservative politically influenced math, much, but according to the math old, using last years numbers: 

    $69 k x 2 =  $ 138, 000 – $110,000 OPERATING COSTS, = $28,000 to the State. 

    NEXT YEAR   $138 k X 15% = $20, 700 

    So according to the old math, this deal will only cost the State  $7,300 per year over having no partners. 

    Anything strange here ?  

    1. Did you intentionally, or unintentionally, leave out the trasnfer of repair expenses from your “math”?

      1. If I did how how does that me different then the Friends of Fort Knox , the State, or the reporter ? 

        So what is your point about repair expense ? 

  8. This give-away should not be happening.  Once it has been given, it will be almost impossible to get it back.

    1. Certainly no agreement should last longer than the governor’s term. I think they ought to wait until after Nov. 6, and then see what happens.

  9. Fort Knox belongs to the people of Maine.  Therefore it should be administered and operated by employee’s of the state of Maine, period.  Regardless of how benevolent the group may be the FOFK has no business setting up shop on the property and ought to be evicted.  Yes they make a contribution to the well being of the fort which historically is all the more important because the state has a history of ignoring such responsibilities.   But the state is the problem to be dealt with, and this problem shouldn’t be fixed by giving away precious heritage sites to private ownership.  I know I know, the state and FOFK claim they will not “own” the fort but really they will in all but holding the deed to the property.  They have a 4 year lease, which no one but them and BP&L have seen.  Leases are legally enforceable which means we won’t be able to evict them for at least 4 years.  To me, that’s about as close to ownership as you can come without holding the deed.  There is a lot of talk about setting precedents and slippery slopes.  Had the FOFK not been allowed to move into the Fort we wouldn’t be having this conversation.  That in itself was a bad precedent.  Get them out, off the property!  Make the state take responsibility for the public property of it’s citizens.  If the FOFK wants to continue contributing to the well being of Fort Knox under those circumstances fine, that would be wonderful.  But get them off the property and keep Fort Knox for the citizens of Maine.

  10. I do not believe the statement that this lease is not meant to set a precedent.  In fact I’d go far enough to say such statements from the FOFK directors are a bold faced lie.  I clearly recall Mr. Celli using the semi-privatization of the Knox homestead site in Thomaston as a precedent for privatizing Fort Knox when pushing his former bill LD509.   Furthermore, Ms. Weston and Mr. Celli (as well as Governor Christie) are far right-wing republicans that whole-heartedly support the GOP doctrine of privatization for all public property.  Knowing this gives the Weston/Americans for Prosperity connection great credibility.  So I simply do not believe them when they claim there is not attempt to set a precedent.  Can’t you hear them now, “it worked at Fort Knox, lets privatize everything and save the state X number of dollars (while lining the pockets of those who take over the administration of our public properties and change them to “improve” receipts)”.  I personally do not believe that privatization of government is the correct way to run things.  Good heavens, have none of these people ever read even a synopsis of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire?  Here is a hint.  Outsourcing their civic duties created a weakness within the structure of the empire that left it vulnerable.

    Some other problems have been brought to light in this article such as: * the elected legislature of Maine has been deliberately excluded from this contract (where is the transparency?) * the FOFK has yet to give a reason for wanting to take control of the Fort * neither the public nor the legislature have seen the lease * as pointed out by other comments, the financial numbers given do not add up * we are told state employee’s will not lose their jobs so where is the $40,000 savings? * what about concessions * what happens if the FOFK tanks * 

    This whole thing stinks!  Fort Knox belongs to the people.  Let’s keep it that way.

    1. Privatization of the publicly owned land, parks, roads, buildings, etc., is never in the publics best interests. What’s next, condos at Popham? Amusement park at Reid?  A four season resort at Chimney Pond? Wake up people, this is a planned takeover that the ALEC?Heritage are just drooling about. An abomination. VOTE THESE PEOPLE OUT!!!

    2. Perhaps a FOIA request to include ALL documents and correspondences between FOFK and DOC as well as Governor LePage may be in line. This will show the original contract in the works prior to the sudden change to a “lease” giving full authority to FOFK. 

  11. The real question I want answered is why the Celli crew wants to seize Fort Knox…and no, I don’t buy for a moment that these high powered buffoons want to run it “to save it” or some lame-o “we patriots” foolishness. What’s their REAL angle?

    1. Excellent question.  In my opinion Celli wears his patriotism on his sleeve.  Meanwhile he is as self serving as, well, most politicians.

  12. i am willing to bet that the people that are talking bad about the fofk running the fort are people who dont visit or help the park out in anyway.

    1. You would lose your bet.  Every Maine citizen helps out when they pay their taxes.  This is public land, not FOFK land.  I would add that many who criticize have intimate knowledge of this situation.  My my, I wonder how they got that knowledge if they hadn’t been involved with the Fort?  Finally, a citizen of Maine does not ever have to visit Fort Knox nor even volunteer to have a vested interest in the Fort because, as I said earlier, FORK KNOX BELONGS TO ALL MAINE CITIZENS!  Many, like myself, don’t agree with privatization in principal and would make the same argument if we were talking about any public lands owned by the citizens of Maine.  You do not think things through very well before expressing an opinion do you mainewolf.

  13. I was directly involved with outsourcing the military in the late 90’s. My last assignment was to oversee the outsourcing of over 2,500 military communications personnel. It is not the panacea promised by advocates. First and foremost, effective contracting is very demanding, and I absolutely guarantee that most government agencies don’t have the expertise needed – even when they think they do. The playing field tilts significantly toward the contractor. If a government agency doesn’t write a good contract and manage that contract well, the public ends up not saving a dime and gets shoddy service to boot. Food for thought. 

    1. In my opinion, outsourcing the military was an act of treason.  Started many administrations ago (Reagan?), the practice reached new heights with GW Bush, Rove, Cheney, and Rumsfeld too of course.  Hadn’t any of these people read even a synopsis of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire?  Here’s a hint.  The Empire outsourced it’s civic responsibilities and thus became vulnerable to all that was a threat to their way of life.

  14. “There’s nothing that we’re hiding in this,” she said. “We’re all about transparency.”

    AAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHHAHAHAHAHA

  15. This is political back-scratching between LaPutz and Weston.  He’s giving her this gift in favor of…? Well that remains to be seen, doesn’t it? And if you think this is going to save the state money, think again. This is going to end up COSTING us taxpayers thousands and thousands. Wait and see or SPEAK UP NOW!

    1. LePage and Weston are birds of a feather.  Both extreme right wing followers of GOP dogma and both looking to advance in the ranks.  God forbid!

  16. Some keep saying,
    but are missing the point of “partnership”. The “partnership” between FOFK and
    the state has been working. Did the state fall down on the job all those years
    ago? Yes. But with FOFK involved, the state stepped up. With this new lease,
    the “partnership” is dissolved. The state will no longer have any control over
    the fort.  The existing “checks and
    balance” will no longer hold FOFK accountable. With both parties involved, each
    was held accountable by the other. 

    “FOFK have exclusive rights to the activities at the fort” Presently,
    the state has authority of operations, with that, historical activities were
    being encouraged.  With the new “lease”, FOFK
    will no longer be required to obtain the state’s approval for any activities they
    chose to present, refuse or take over.  (case and point, the second Battle At Fort
    Knox).

     Essentially, a State
    owned park/Historical site will no longer be for public use without FOFK
    approval.

    Presently, if a citizen or group wished to have an activity
    at the fort, a Special Activity Permit is required to be approved by the state.
    ANY citizen has the right to utilize the fort and its grounds.  With the new “lease”, this will fall to FOFK
    to approve as they see fit. This also will allow FOFK to charge as they see fit
    without any state approval.  

    I am not seeing the “partnership” in the presently proposed “lease”. 

  17. I have been following this story now since last weekend. I guess some people don’t have good reading comprehension skills. The fort remains the property of the State, all existing policies/fees associated with the park remain the same, according to previous articles and posts on here. So really what is the problem? It appears that several commentators have a personal ax to grind that goes far beyond the issue at hand. Some of the comments have been downright vicious and mean spirited. You don’t further your case by writing that way.

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