AUGUSTA — A Republican lawmaker wants rest stops along the Maine Turnpike to sell local products, but a 30-year contract between the quasi-governmental Turnpike Authority and a national company could threaten the proposal.
Sen. Chris Rector, R-Knox, is sponsoring LD 217, a bill that would require the Maine Turnpike Authority to promote and sell Maine products at rest stops along the 109-mile toll road.
During Tuesday's public hearing, Rector wondered why the rest stops were selling Sbarro pizza instead of Amato's pizza, a local franchise.
"We should be showcasing our finest Maine vendors," Rector said.
He said he hadn't contacted Maine companies to see whether they were interested in selling their products at rest areas.
Nonetheless, several members of the Legislature's Transportation Committee believe Rector is on to something.
But according to the Maine Turnpike Authority, the MTA has little control over who sells products at its rest stops. That's because the authority has leased the rest areas to a private company, HMS Hosts, which in turn contracts to private vendors.
HMS is a national company that contracts with turnpike authorities and airports around the country.
Conrad Wetzel, a spokesman for the MTA, said Maine products could be sold at the rest areas and that some local companies have previously tried to do so.
However, some panelists wondered whether local companies were at a competitive disadvantage to national vendors.
HMS requires that potential vendors prove that their products are popular with travelers, a provision that could be a challenge to some Maine companies.
In 2007, the MTA signed a 30-year contract with HMS. Several committee members said they were stunned that the authority would enter such a lengthy contract.
Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, said he was "flabbergasted" at the duration of the contract, adding that the agreement gave the authority little latitude to consider "good ideas like this one."
Wetzel said the length of the contract was common among other turnpike authorities. He added that the MTA received 20 percent of the gross sales at the rest stops in addition to a flat, upfront payment.
The bill will undergo a work session at later date.