2017-12-22 / Front Page

Towns await storm fund decision

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Municipalities hit hard by the storm that brought heavy wind, rain and widespread power outages in late October/early November could receive some federal financial assistance to help cover the cost of responding.

On Nov. 30, Gov. Paul LePage requested a Presidential Disaster Declaration for “federal assistance to repair $4.7 million in public infrastructure damage” in 13 of Maine’s counties, including Cumberland County. The storm, which began the night of Oct. 29, brought with it 70 mph winds and as much as 5 inches of rain to some parts of the state, causing more than half a million customers to lose power, some for several days.

According to LePage, more than 90 school districts in the state canceled classes during the storm and more than 100 warming stations and shelters were set up for people without power.

“The strong winds and heavy rains caused extensive damage as trees, many still in full leaf and weakened by drought, snapped or uprooted in rain-saturated soil,” LePage said in a release. “The falling trees pulled down wires, snapped more than 1,400 poles, and left many roads impassable, causing widespread power outages greater than those of the 1998 Ice Storm. Several communities spent days clearing debris that created life-safety issues from public rights-of-way. The cost for that clean-up work will be considerable and will cut deeply into public works budgets. This devastating storm has placed a financial burden on towns and counties.”

“We are really not expecting to get any news about it until January,” said Maine Emergency Management Agency Public Information Officer Susan Faloon. “The request has been forwarded to President Trump, so it is in his hands now.”

In his letter to President Trump, LePage indicated the state government “will bear $2.2 million in damages and costs” to “repair and rehabilitate roads and bridges and parks and lands.” The storm caused $1.08 million in damage in Cumberland County, including close to $753,000 in debris clearing and slightly more than $226,000 in preventative measures.

Faloon said in order to be reimbursed each community must have had at least $3,200 in damages or emergency response cost.

The money, when, and if, awarded, would be used to recoup damage to schools or municipal buildings, roads and bridges, streetlights or costs communities incurred removing debris, and labor costs for responding to emergencies or closing down roads with fallen trees or downed power lines. If approved by Trump, reimbursements would be facilitated through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Faloon said the process started with LePage signing off on a preliminary damage assessment, which was forwarded to the Federal Emergency Management

Agency (FEMA). The agency sent a team to go out in the field with representatives of Maine Emergency Management Agency, county emergency officials and local emergency officials to assess the damage and “put some numbers” behind the estimates that came in after the storm from local municipalities.

Town officials are hoping some of this funding from the federal disaster declaration will find its way back to Scarborough. Scarborough Fire Chief and Scarborough Emergency Management Agency Director B. Michael Thurlow said the town would be eligible for at least $56,000 in reimbursement to cover the overtime costs for public works employees, fire/police volunteers and police and fire department members put in to respond to downed trees and power lines.

The reimbursement will also cover the cost of debris removal. The reimbursement figure, Thurlow said, is as of Nov. 16 when FEMA were in town to survey the damage.

The reimbursement is a fraction of the overall cost the town spent on storm response.

“It certainly isn’t dollar for dollar reimbursement for the true cost of the storm,” he said.

Storm damage was seen all across Scarborough.

“It really wasn’t isolated to one particular area of town. There was damage to the electrical circuit town wide, but there were some areas that didn’t lose power,” he said, adding that at the peak of the storm 80 percent of Central Maine Power customers were without power.

Thanks to a quick response, Thurlow said within 24 hours every road in town was open, or accessible.

“Based on the number of trees down and damage we had, that was pretty remarkable,” he said.

Final word on if the president will approve LePage’s declaration request is not expected until January.

Faloon said it is unknown if the disaster declaration funding will even be awarded for Maine communities.

“It’s really hard to say. I don’t see why we wouldn’t (get it), but I’d hate to speculate and set expectations for people,” she said. “It’s been a very busy year for disasters nationwide, but I don’t think it will necessarily mean we won’t get funding. They will have to look at all the facts and figures through.”

Thurlow is confident the disaster declaration will go through. He said generally when a state meets the threshold, money is awarded. He said in his 42 years in public safety, he can’t recall a time when the need was met and the declaration didn’t get approved.

The governor’s disaster declaration request does not cover individual assistance, although the Small Business Administration may be able to offer assistance to impacted businesses.

“We are gathering data for an administrative declaration which will allow homeowners, renters, and small businesses low-interest, long term loans,” Faloon told the Leader in an email. “If we are unable to get the SBA declaration we may be able to get a Governor’s Certification that will allow economic injury loans for small businesses.”

Maine’s Farm Service Agency has submitted an administrator’s physical loss notification to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

According to Valerie Porter, County Executive Director for Maine Farm Service’s Penobscot/Hancock County office, there are emergency physical loss loans available in all 16 counties and officials in Penobscot, Hancock, Cumberland, York and Somerset counties have been authorized to “implement the Emergency Forest Restoration Program available to forest landowners to assist in cleaning up debris caused by the heavy wind.”

LePage noted in his letter to Trump more than 210 small business reported loss of revenue or damage to product or infrastructure and 7,000 Maine farms were impacted by the storm, with 2,000 reporting physical damage to structures and equipment.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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