Governor’s conference requires largest state security presence in decades

The National Governors Association’s annual summer conference necessitated the largest security presence in Maine in decades, but neither Governor Janet Mills’ office nor association staff could say Thursday how much that cost and how much of the bill taxpayers pay.

Months of planning went into heightened security at the conference, leading to multiple street closures in Portland, the heavy law enforcement presence encountered by visitors to downtown Portland on Wednesday and Thursday and the closure of one of the world’s most iconic lighthouses to the public. .

Portland Police are closing Commercial Street from Pearl to Franklin to traffic just after 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. Several streets in Portland’s downtown neighborhood and along its congested waterfront will be temporarily closed to traffic during the National Governors Association’s summer conference to be held in the city Wednesday through Friday. Brianna Soukup/staff photographer

A Maine Department of Public Safety spokesperson said planning for the event began in 2020 but was halted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Planning resumed in fall 2021 and resulted in the inconvenience and disruption that some Mainers and visitors experienced this week.

But Shannon Moss, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said increased security was needed to keep governors, their families, staff and guests safe.

“(The NGA conference) is absolutely the biggest security event to take place in Maine in decades,” Moss said in an email Thursday. “It has been an enormous undertaking with multiple agencies working together to ensure the safety of governors, their families, other dignitaries and guests.”

Maine State Police, Portland Police and private security details, including soldiers from other states, were deployed during the three-day conference, which was based at the Holiday Inn by the Bay on Spring Street in Portland. In addition to intense security, public and media access to the rally was also restricted.

Moss was unable to provide details on the cost of Maine State Police security details, an amount she said may not be known for several weeks.

“I can’t even give you the Maine State Police cost alone because that number is fluid given unforeseen variables,” Moss wrote in an email.

Mills’ office did not respond to a request Thursday asking how much the security measures will cost the state.

A sign informs motorists that Fort Williams Park was closed to the public on Thursday afternoon due to the biannual meeting of the National Governors Association. Ben McCanna / Personal Photographer

The National Governors Association is funded by dues paid by each state. According to a spokesperson for Mills, Maine pays an annual fee of $60,700 to the NGA. Fees vary by state, with some larger states paying significantly more.

The governor’s office did not respond Thursday to a request whether the NGA would reimburse the state for related security expenses. Association staff also did not respond to questions Thursday about the organization’s finances, how it assesses fees and the cost of the summer meeting being held this week in Portland.

One of the biggest disruptions came on Thursday afternoon when police closed Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth – home to the iconic Portland Head Lighthouse – to the public at 1pm. Visitors were not allowed to enter the 90-acre park for the rest of the day while governors sat down for a lobster cookout near the lighthouse, according to Cape Elizabeth Police Chief Paul Fenton. He estimated that more than 600 people were still in the park at sunset.

Fenton said the city, which owns the park, agreed to the closure after being approached by the NGA.

“I realize the closure has caused some frustration, but it’s such a unique event. We wanted to make sure it was as safe as possible,” Fenton said Thursday night. Fenton said the Cape Elizabeth Police Department’s security details won’t cost taxpayers a penny.

“We’re going to bill this to the National Governors Association at no cost to the taxpayer,” Fenton said.

Wes and Rebecca Calkin from Washington, DC are trying to find cell service after taking an Uber ride to Fort Williams Park on Thursday, July 14, 2022, only to find that the park was closed for the rest of the day. It’s their last day in Maine and they were hoping to see the park before they go. The park was closed until sunrise Friday due to a lobster cooking event for governors attending the NFA meeting. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Wes and Rebecca Calkin wanted to visit Portland Head Light on the last day of their four-day vacation in Maine, but were unaware it was closed and were turned away by the police. The Calkins, who live in Washington, DC, arrived via Lyft around 1 p.m.

Their Lyft driver had to pick up another customer after leaving the Calkins at the park entrance. When they tried to call for another ride, they had no cell reception. Rebecca Calkin said they started walking south from Portland and were finally able to connect with an Uber driver after walking for five minutes.

‘A LITTLE HICCUP’

“It was a shame not to be able to enter the park, but we tried to make the most of it,” she said. They returned to Portland for dinner at Mr. Tuna’s before catching a flight to the nation’s capital.

Calkin said she and her husband were able to see the Portland Head Lighthouse when they passed it on a schooner trip to Casco Bay earlier in their visit.

“We are not angry. It was just a little setback for us,” she said, adding that they really enjoyed their vacation in Maine, especially the restaurants in Portland where they dined.

Conference attendees gather at Porthole and Boone’s where an event for the National Governors Association was taking place on Wednesday. Portland Police closed Commercial Street to vehicular traffic from Pearl to Franklin during the event. The National Governors Association’s summer conference is held in the city Wednesday through Friday. Brianna Soukup/staff photographer

There was a heavy police presence in downtown Portland on Thursday and a section of Spring Street in front of the Holiday Inn by the Bay was closed to traffic. The hotel served as the base for the Governors meeting. No protests were reported on Thursday after a peaceful protest was staged by abortion rights activists on Commercial Street on Wednesday evening, while governors, family and staff dined at Boone’s Fish House and Oyster Room.

Media were only allowed to cover two meetings on Thursday and two additional meetings on Friday. These meetings covered topics such as science education, as well as travel and tourism. Security was also tightened at the two downtown hotels where the governors were staying – the Holiday Inn by the Bay and the Westin Harborview Hotel on High Street.

Nineteen governors attended the Portland conference. In addition to Mills, other governors present included Democrat John Carney of Delaware and Republicans Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, Larry Hogan of Maryland, Doug Burgum of North Dakota, Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire and Charlie Baker of Massachusetts.

The conference ends Friday.

Editors Randy Billings and Edward D. Murphy contributed to this report.


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