Disaster decree good news for counties

Posted July 31, 2009, at 10:53 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Even though it was raining — again — Friday afternoon, news that the president has declared a major disaster for eight Maine counties for storm damage incurred between June 18 and July 8 seemed like a break in the bad weather for Ray Sisk, director of the Knox County Emergency Management Agency.

“It’s good news, particularly from the towns that got hit pretty hard,” Sisk said. “Between the severe rainstorms and the winter storms, things add up. It’s great that the system is there and available to help the state and the communities out.”

Gov. Baldacci estimated that damage from heavy rain, hail, winds, flooding, erosion and landslides from a storm system which hovered over Maine for nearly three weeks cost the state $2.5 million. President Obama signed off on the designation, which means that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse 75 percent of repair costs for Knox, Waldo, Hancock, Washington, Somerset, Lincoln, Franklin and Oxford counties, and the state will pick up an additional 10 percent.

The governor plans to add Piscataquis County to the list, said Lynette Miller of the Maine Emergency Management Agency.

“The damages are extremely unfortunate, but we’re grateful to get the federal assistance,” Miller said. “All the counties in the declaration had damages above their per capita threshold. The entire coast, from Washington County down to Lincoln County, was affected.”

The first step in the FEMA process will be a public meeting in each county for local officials to learn how the program operates, she said. The next step will be to do community assessments to determine the full breadth of the damage.

“Once there’s a firm dollar value, we basically start the reimbursement for projects,” Miller said.

That is a huge help, especially for smaller towns hard hit by the storms, Sisk said. He estimated that Knox County received $200,000 in storm damage, and $130,000 of that was in the small town of Union.

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

U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, 2nd District Rep. Mike Michaud and 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree wrote to the president earlier last month supporting the governor’s request for a disaster declaration.

“These storms have caused dangerous conditions and significant hardship in Maine,” the delegation said Thursday in a joint statement. “We applaud the administration for responding swiftly to our request for disaster declaration.”

acurtis@bangordailynews.net

338-3034

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