Baldacci requests federal disaster relief

Posted July 15, 2009, at 9:04 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. John Baldacci wrote to President Obama on Tuesday, requesting federal disaster assistance for half of Maine’s 16 counties after the series of punishing rainstorms that beset the state between June 18 and July 8.

No one was killed or injured because of the storms, but rain, winds, flooding, erosion and landslides wreaked more than $2.5 million in damage in Knox, Waldo, Hancock, Washington, Somerset, Lincoln, Franklin and Oxford counties, Baldacci said.

Piscataquis County may be added to the list, depending on its preliminary damage assessment, according to the Governor’s Office.

“Response to the clean-up, repair and recovery are overwhelming budgetary resources,” Baldacci said in a statement. “Federal assistance will help impacted communities and the state fully recover from the extraordinary weather occurrences we experienced.”

Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe wrote to Obama on Wednesday, expressing their support for the governor’s request.

“The damage in several areas was catastrophic, with damage estimates surpassing their entire road maintenance budget,” the senators wrote jointly.

Federal disaster assistance for the counties would mean that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would reimburse 75 percent of repair costs, according to Ray Sisk, director of the Knox County Emergency Management Agency.

The state would pick up an additional 10 percent, Sisk said. That money could be a lifeline for Knox County towns, which reported $200,000 in damage from the storm the night of July 2.

“Money is tight for towns right now,” Sisk said. “To have to absorb the amount of damage from this one storm makes it very difficult for the towns. We’re hopeful that the president will approve the declaration.”

The series of storms, which began on June 18, dropped more than 12 inches of rain in the western Maine mountains and from 8 to 10 inches along the coast, Baldacci informed the president. “Massive” washouts closed rural roads, he said, and the continued rains often washed away local repair efforts. A state-owned bridge in Oxford County was among the storm casualties, Baldacci said.

“Major landslides occurred in at least two locations, impacting both private property and public infrastructure,” he wrote. “Since the ground is saturated and stream flows remain high, more landslides are very possible, other weakened infrastructure may still fail, and any further rainfall could once again produce emergency conditions in the state.”

The bad weather arrived during a particularly vulnerable period for the Maine, which has just seen a reduction of state subsidies to counties and towns due $500 million sliced out of the state budget, Baldacci told the president.

“In addition, the constant rainfall has occurred concurrent with the start of Maine’s tourist and recreation season, a major source of revenue for our state,” he wrote.

The news that the state may be eligible for federal disaster assistance came as a relief to Union road foreman Dean Camber.

The small Knox County town was deluged on the night of July 2 with 3 inches of rain in just over an hour and a half, and Camber estimates that storm damage will cost the town at least $130,000. It was the worst-hit community in the county, and Camber said that he didn’t know where the town would find money in its budget to pay for repairs.

“If you have a disaster like this, if you don’t get the extra money, it just puts you farther and farther behind,” Camber said.

acurtis@bangordailynews.net

338-3034

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