Officials evaluate damage

Posted April 08, 2009, at 10:28 p.m.

As flood threats persisted in northern and central parts of the state Wednesday, officials in Knox and Waldo counties began assessing damages to roads and other infrastructure caused by Monday night’s storm.

Repair costs would have to add up to the magic sum of $1.8 million to qualify for federal disaster funds, according to Dale Rowley, Waldo County Emergency Management Agency director.

“Everything’s a WAG right now — a wild, assumed guess,” Rowley said.

While midcoast and Maine Department of Transportation road crews worked to make temporary repairs, Rowley and a roomful of town managers, politicians and emergency management workers crowded into the Lincolnville Town Office late Wednesday afternoon, waiting for the arrival of Gov. John Baldacci.

The governor was on a whistle-stop storm tour of the midcoast, checking out damaged culverts, sandbagged dams and a hole in Lincolnville’s Slab City Road so deep that a person could — and Baldacci did — climb inside it.

In Camden, Fire Chief Chris Farley accompanied the governor to two dams on Lake Megunticook, where firefighters had worked through the night Monday to shore them up with sandbags.

“You folks did a tremendous job,” Baldacci said at the town office. “I really was very impressed by the effort that went into making sure that nobody got hurt. We want to make sure we stay on top of it.”

Rowley estimated at least $225,000 in damages done by the storm in Waldo County alone. If costs from Knox County and other flooded regions of Maine reach $1.8 million and the president OKs the disaster relief designation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency would send project engineers to the towns and reimburse 75 percent of the repair costs, Rowley said.

While coastal officials took stock, however, their counterparts in northern Maine continued to keep an eye on ice jams on the Aroostook and St. John rivers.

Still of concern on the Aroostook River were an ice jam at Masardis, a solid sheet of ice just above the dam at Caribou and an ice jam just below the bridge in Fort Fairfield, hydrologist Mark Turner of the National Weather Service office in Caribou said.

There also was a jam on the St. John River near Van Buren, though that one appeared close to dissolving.

“Until all the ice is clear, there’s still a threat of ice-jam flooding,” Turner said.

The ice jam at Masardis flooded and forced the closure of Route 164 at Crouseville for the second day in a row. Route 11 at Masardis also was closed on and off Wednesday near the confluence of the Aroostook River and St. Croix Stream, according to a dispatcher with the state police barracks in Houlton. As of 9 p.m. Wednesday, both roads remained closed.

Turner said that Route 11 in Masardis was covered with water fluctuating from one to three feet deep and that the flooding prompted the evacuation of about half a dozen households in the community.

Among them were Doug and Mechelle MacDonald and their four children — Hillary, 17, Rebecca, 13, Daniel, 11, and Tiffany, 9. Their two dogs were taken in by a cousin in Ashland, Doug MacDonald said Wednesday night when reached at the Ashland Motor Lodge, where the town temporarily put the family up.

MacDonald said he and his wife had been taking turns staying up for overnight flood watches. They thought they were in the clear earlier this week when an ice jam there let go. The jam, however, re-formed and this time wreaked havoc.

Everything was fine when he and his wife left for Presque Isle, where he underwent hernia surgery at 8 a.m. Wednesday, he said. When he and his wife returned that afternoon, they had to drive through two feet of water to get to their home.

When they arrived, they learned a neighbor had picked their children up off the school bus and had taken them to safety at the town office. The couple collected their two dogs and took them to a cousin’s home in Ashland. They left with just the clothes on their backs, he said.

MacDonald said a neighbor told him Wednesday night that floodwater had filled his basement and had breached the first floor. He and his wife planned to go back to the house to assess the damage after dinner.

“We got flooded last year, but this year it’s four times worse,” he said. He said the flood couldn’t have come at a worse time for him and his neighbors, several of whom were laid off in January from the Fraser Timber Inc. lumber mill in Masardis. They were trying to get by on unemployment, which he said amounts to about half of what they had been earning.

“Nobody got hurt. That’s the main thing,” MacDonald said. He added that he had contacted the American Red Cross and hoped to hear from the organization soon.

“We’re going to need a place to stay,” he said.

Further north, Aroostook Emergency Management Agency Director Vern Ouellette said the St. John River appeared to be less of a concern.

The river was relatively clear of ice through Fort Kent and Madawaska, and an ice jam that got hung up Tuesday night about three miles north of Van Buren had moved about a mile and a half downriver Wednesday and appeared to be breaking up.

“We should be all set here,” he said. “It might hang around a day or so, but it looks like it’s breaking up.”

A National Weather Service flood warning remains in effect until this morning for eastern Aroostook, north-central Penobscot County and northeastern Piscataquis County. A flood warning means that flooding is imminent or has been reported.

Earlier this week, flood watchers worried rain might cause snow to melt quickly, adding water to already swollen rivers. Turner said forecasts called for showers through the end of the week. Heavy rain wasn’t expected until late Friday or early Saturday in parts of the state, but it wasn’t yet clear if that would reach northern Maine. Temperatures were expected to stay cold.

Also Wednesday, Turner urged those who want to get a closer look at the swelled rivers to use extreme caution around ice chunks deposited on the banks.

“Even if the river levels recede, all that ice piles up. It’s real dangerous. If you were to go look at some places where the ice [floes] kind of pancake on top of each other, you see a lot of people climbing on them. [In some cases] those are two-ton blocks of ice with nothing really supporting them,” he said.

“It’s not safe to play on ice, even if it’s on dry land,” he said. “It doesn’t look like it’s moving, but could toss you right into the river.”

Meanwhile, back on the coast, Jack Driscoll, the Northport town administrator, said it would be a big help if the state qualified for federal disaster assistance.

Driscoll carried a folder with photographs of some of the broken, eroded roads in his town and estimated that the damage will add up to at least $100,000.

“The town of Northport will be using up the road budget for the year on the storm,” Driscoll said.

On the closed Slab City Road in Lincolnville, Baldacci examined the havoc wreaked by storm-swelled Black Brook. Buckled asphalt marked the spot where the rushing water eroded a hole under the road so large that one could see underneath it from one side to the other.

“This is quite a thing,” Baldacci said of the damage.

Lincolnville administrator David Kinney said that a temporary fix to the road would cost $5,000 and a permanent fix would cost $30,000.

“It’s an added expense for a town of two thousand people,” Kinney said.

When the governor told him that he “certainly” wanted to work with the town, Kinney smiled.

“We look forward to getting back to normal,” the administrator said.

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