April 25, 2018
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Baldacci visits storm-ravaged Washington County

By Sharon Kiley Mack, BDN Staff

CALAIS, Maine — As City Manager Diane Barnes turned the pages of a photo album showing areas of the city ravaged by last week’s rainstorm, all Gov. John Baldacci could say at first was “Wow.”

Between 8 and 10 inches of rain pummeled the northeastern part of Washington County on Dec. 13.

As of Tuesday, damage throughout the county totaled $814,378.77 — far above the $600,000 county threshold needed to apply for federal assistance.

Before anyone in Washington County can get any federal funds, however, the state must meet a $1.67 million threshold. Baldacci told Barnes on Tuesday that the state’s tally from storm damage in other areas was just more than $1 million.

“The problem is that the storm was centered mostly over Washington County,” Baldacci said. Aroostook County also had some damage, adding another $281,000 to the state total.

Still being evaluated, and thus not counted yet, are washouts and problems on any state-owned roads or the Rails-to-Trails Sunrise Trail, which was heavily damaged.

Also not included in the tally yet is $100,000 to $200,000 in damage to the Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative’s power lines. Washington County Emergency Management Director Mike Hinerman explained that although private damage — such as undermined railroad tracks in Baileyville and damage to the Woodland Pulp LLC mill — cannot be used to reach the threshold for disaster aid, EMEC is a nonprofit cooperative and can be counted.

“The St. Croix River [where the lines are located] is so high that EMEC is looking at using a helicopter to rewire some of its damaged lines, because no one can hike into the area,” he said.

Efforts to meet the statewide threshold for federal assistance could be greatly improved, however, if officials can link in their application both the rainstorm of Dec. 13 and a snowstorm that dumped a foot of snow on Washington County on Dec. 7.

“If we could connect those two storms, it would really be to our benefit,” the governor said.

Hinerman said that since the snowpack contained at least 2 inches of water, a case could be made that the first storm contributed to the runoff damage the second storm caused.

“This has been very, very helpful,” Baldacci said of his meetings with local and county officials in their efforts to get federal aid.

The governor said that as tallies continue to come in from towns and counties across the state, hitting the federal threshold will be key, since there is no state aid available for any of the damaged towns. He also said that though private damage cannot be counted toward the federal application thresholds, assessments could still be helpful in pleading Maine’s case for aid.

If disaster aid were approved, federal funds would cover 75 percent of repair costs for storm-related damage. The state would be responsible for 15 percent of the costs, and local contributions would be needed to cover the remaining 10 percent.

Estimates in Washington County will not include a possible half-million dollars in damage to Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Refuge administrators will have to apply for repair funds directly from that federal agency.

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