The LePage administration disputes that account, but officials at Portland City Hall expressed alarm. "It was very troubling to think that for some reason, or perhaps some political reason, there would no longer be any collaboration with the city of Portland," says Nick Mavadones.
Mavadones is the mayor of Portland, where just 19 percent of voters cast ballots for LePage, a Republican, in the 2010 gubernatorial election. "I encouraged the governor to meet with us. We've asked for a meeting as quickly as we can schedule it, and I would really like to hear him respond personally to the comments that were quoted today," he says.
Blocks away from City Hall, on the Portland waterfront, Phil Daigle says he hopes the governor didn't make those alleged comments. "That doesn't sound very good for the governor if he doesn't want to help the biggest town in Maine," he esays.
Daigle owns Casco Bay Welding, and says he wishes the fishing fleet would expand so he could have more repair work. He says a thriving groundfish industry is good for the entire state, even people in the northernmost counties.
"They grow potatoes and vegetables up there--we hope that that works for them as well," Daigle says. "It's not a closed door in either direction. I would think that everybody needs to help everybody."
Olsen on Thursday maintained that the governor refused to listen to his ideas to revive the groundfishing industry in Portland, like finding incentives for fish processors and cold storage companies to the area, or getting federal subsidies for groundfishermen making landings.
Olsen recalls one particular conversation. "I pointed out that Portland is critical to any restoration of the groundfish fleet because the groundfish boats operating out of the smaller ports like Port Clyde send their fish to the Portland auction, and that's how they get the best price," he says. "And if they have to ship them to Boston or New Bedford, they suffer. It has the piers, it has the berthing, it has most of the services necessary for a real fleet."
But Olsen says that LePage said he was not to work with Portland, adding cryptically that the city was breaking the law. Olsen also said that LePage told him to simply bring boats to another Maine port.
Olsen recalls replying that only Rockland had the port depth and piers to do such a thing, but that the community still had far less infrastructure than Portland.
"At the end of the meeting, he got up from his chair and was clearly not pleased that I had been countering him and he headed to the door to leave from the Cabinet room to his office and turned aruond and said, 'Well, if not Rockland than we'll bring them back to Searsport,'" Olsen says.
Adam Fisher, a spokesman for the governor, denies this account, saying that Olsen was clearly upset when he wrote his letter.
"Obiviously, if you think about it, it really doesn't make sense that the governor, that the administration would even have such a position to move things out of Portland," Fisher says. "There are no resources nor available land to build a brand new port for the fishing industry of southern Maine to use."
Fisher says that the LePage administration has been very supportive of efforts to bring back Portland's groundfishing fleet. He notes that the governor backed a tax break on disel fuel for fishing boats aimed at attracting Maine fishermen making landings in Gloucester and New Bedford in Massachusetts. "Those efforts show a committment to Portland and the fleet that's based out of Portland and the workers who work in the industry there."
Maggie Raymond of the groundfishing trade group Associated Fisheries of Maine says that she has no reason not to trust Olsen's account. She says that if LePage really expressed disinterest in helping Portland, it's not a new position by a governor.
"The former governor really didn't work very hard on the issue either." Raymond says. "The city of Portland worked for years trying to protect the groundfish fleet and they needed help from the state, and they needed help from the state in both state regulations and they needed help from the state when participating in the federal management process. And they did not get that support. So this is not a new situation."
Late this afternoon, the acting commissioner of the Deparment of Marine Resources, Patrick Keliher, reached out to Portland city officials to dispel any concerns they have about the administration's willingness to work with the city, according LePage's office. While city officials had asked to speak with the governor, LePage spokeman Fisher says that Keliher was the appoprirate person to handle the issue.
Read Mayor Mavodones' letter to Gov. LePage.
Read former Commissioner Norm Olsen's statement.