Maine misses disaster aid threshold

Posted Jan. 05, 2011, at 2:56 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 7:20 a.m.

CALAIS, Maine — Maine leaders learned this week that Maine was unable to reach the federal threshold of $1.65 million in storm damage to qualify for disaster assistance.

The state sought the designation and federal funding that comes with it after a Dec. 12 rainstorm devastated areas of Washington and Aroostook counties, as well as damaged parts of Penobscot and Piscataquis counties. Estimated damage for 24 communities and nonprofit organizations in Washington County alone topped $822,244, with $125,000 of that total representing damage in the city of Calais, according to Mike Hinerman, Washington County Emergency Management Agency director.

The damage averaged $1.39 per capita across the state, but $34 per capita Down East, he said.

In one of his last acts while in office Wednesday, Gov. John Baldacci transferred $100,000 from the State Emergency Contingent Account to be used by the four damaged counties.

Baldacci said Wednesday that he had learned Tuesday that the state’s damage was inspected and assessed by federal officials at below the threshold needed to qualify for federal disaster assistance. He did not say how close the state came.

Washington County Manager Betsy Fitzgerald wasn’t surprised. “The damage total was a best-guess scenario, and it was a bit off the mark,” she said.

Diane Barnes, Calais city manager, said the timing of the federal inspection was unfortunate because much of the damage had been repaired or was not visible under freshly fallen snow.

“But Gov. Baldacci came to Calais following the storm and he saw for himself what we were up against,” she said.

“Even though we didn’t make the threshold,” Fitzgerald said, “we are very glad the governor understands what a hardship many towns in Washington County experienced.”

“The timing of this so close to the transition to the next administration is unfortunate, but we just learned that we would not qualify for federal assistance on Tuesday,” Gov. Baldacci said in a prepared statement released Wednesday. “I believe the affected communities need to know what they can expect. Based on early damage assessments, we had hoped that the counties would qualify for federal disaster aid. That is unlikely to happen. These resources will help these communities to make repairs.”

The $100,000 will be administered by the Maine Emergency Management Agency. MEMA will contact affected counties with details on an application process for the resources.

To qualify for a Presidential Disaster Declaration, the state must be able to document statewide damage of at least $1.65 million. In addition, each individual county must meet its own threshold for damage to receive aid. After Preliminary Damage Assessments conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Maine as a whole did not qualify for assistance.

“While we may not have met the federal threshold, the damage is extensive, particularly in Washington County. Maine can’t turn its back on the communities that are suffering,” Baldacci said.

After the transfer of funds from the State Emergency Contingent Account, it will have a balance of $200,000 that can be used to address future emergencies.

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