Stormy weather causes more than $500,000 in damages

By Sharon Kiley Mack, BDN Staff
Posted Dec. 16, 2010, at 1:03 p.m.

CALAIS — The torrential rainstorm that deluged Washington County on Monday may have caused more than a half-million dollars in damage to towns and cities, officials said Thursday. That estimate does not include a possible half-million dollars’ damage at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge alone and mounting damage to the dozens of ripped-up state roads.

Between 6 and 8 inches of rain — in addition to the melting of a foot of snow from an earlier storm — closed a border crossing, washed out local roads and caused widespread evacuations along the St. Croix River in New Brunswick.

Gov. John Baldacci’s spokesman, David Farmer, said Thursday that 10 Maine counties have reported damage from the rainstorm and are still tallying up the costs. He said the most significant damage was in Washington and Aroostook counties.

In Washington County, homeowners fought basements full of water, and public works budgets were shot as the end of the year approaches. Most of the damage was centered east and north of Machias.

“This is being called a 100-year storm,” Eastport Town Manager Jon Southern said this week.

Bill Kolodnicki, director of the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Baring and Edmunds, said the refuge suffered massive damage. The initial assessment is $135,000, but there are 10 miles of roads and dikes in the refuge still underwater. As the water recedes, Kolodnicki expects the damage estimate to rise by at least 65 percent.

He said Ice House Road and Howard Mill Road are closed to the public. “On the Edmunds Road, the water ripped out a culvert and shot it downstream, leaving a 15-foot crater,” he said.

The refuge is part of the St. Croix watershed, Kolodnicki said, and contains 50 miles of roadway and 40 water control structures. The water remains over some of the refuge’s bridges and ripped railings off others.

“This is the most significant damage the refuge has seen in 73 years,” he said. “It was a topic at today’s Department of the Interior morning briefing. If we don’t get funding to repair the damage, public access will be closed to the refuge.”

On Thursday, the Milltown Bridge international border crossing at Calais over the St. Croix River remained closed due to high water and erosion concerns. Motorists are being diverted to the new International Bridge or the downtown Ferry Point Bridge crossings.

Mike Hinerman, Washington County Emergency Management director, said the St. Croix River eroded the riverbank under the Milltown Bridge customs house. “The building has been evacuated and a structural engineer will be checking its stability,” Hinerman said.

He said the St. Croix, at the peak of the flowage, was close to the 50-year mark, but there were no reports of any damage to dams on the river.

“Woodland Pulp [in Baileyville] did an excellent job of operating their dams to minimize the downstream flow and damage,” he said.

Hinerman said that there are two disaster assistance thresholds that must be met before federal and state assistance kicks in. The county threshold is $111,000 in damage — which already has been met — and the state’s is $1.7 million.

If the thresholds are met and a disaster can be declared, Farmer, of the governor’s office, said that federal funds would pay for 75 percent of the repairs. The state would be responsible for 15 percent of the costs and local contributions would be needed to cover the remaining 10 percent.

Farmer said damage to state-owned roads still are being assessed.

Darren Woods, public safety coordinator for the Aroostook County Emergency Management Agency, said Thursday afternoon that damage reports from County communities were still coming in.

As of Thursday, however, he said that he did not believe The County would qualify for any federal aid.

A handful of communities reported damage to local and state roads and culverts due to the flooding. In Island Falls, the Mattawamkeag River overflowed and sent water gushing onto several roads. Two families were evacuated by the American Red Cross.

Flooding also was reported in Houlton, Oakfield, Bridgewater, E Plantation and Fort Fairfield.

“Right now, we haven’t met the threshold for aid,” Woods said. “But we are still tallying up reports. We need to hit $241,777 in order to qualify for federal assistance.”

In Washington, meanwhile, Calais City Manager Diane Barnes reported extensive damage. At one point, the road to the city’s transfer station was completely washed out and there was 3 inches of water inside the police station. Water flooded out the furnace at the town’s recreation building.

“People are telling me that they have never seen anything like this rain,” she said. Referring to her roots in central Maine, Barnes said the flooding reminded her of the 1987 floods there. “This was an incredibly significant event,” she said.

Barnes said the damage will “be in the tens of thousands” of dollars, but that an accurate tally won’t be available for days.

In Machias, as many as 15 roads were barricaded Monday because of the flood damage. Most of those roads are now open, Town Manager Chris Loughlin reported Thursday.

Because the rain came so quickly, sewer treatment plants in Calais, Machias and Eastport were forced to dump their waters, triggering a clam flat pollution closure throughout the county. “These systems are not made to handle this,” County Manager Betsy Fitzgerald said.

Machiasport is reporting at least $20,000 in damage to Kennebec Road, which remained closed Thursday.

At Lubec, Town Administrator John Southerland said Cove’s Neck Road buckled and culverts washed out.

He estimated 57 staff hours of work to clean up the mess for a low estimate of $15,000.

“We only had one day to fix things and then it snowed,” Southerland said.

Bangor Daily News writer Jen Lynds contributed to this report.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/12/16/news/stormy-weather-causes-more-than-500000-in-damages/ printed on September 19, 2014