MACHIAS, Maine— Gov. Paul LePage is seeking the help of Maine’s congressional delegation in turning around a denial of federal disaster assistance after two serious December storms.
In a five-page letter to President Barack Obama dated Tuesday, Jan. 18, LePage justifies linking two storms as one event, therefore boosting Maine’s damage tally and its chances of getting approved for funding. The federal government originally denied Maine’s request for aid, based only on damage estimates from a Dec. 12 rainstorm, on grounds that the state had not reached the required $1.65 million threshold.
In his request to the president, LePage links the devastating rainstorm with a snowstorm on Dec. 6. He categorizes the two storms as one event that caused significant and widespread damage in Aroostook, Penobscot, Piscataquis and Washington counties, including on Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribal lands. The damage total amounts to $1.7 million, according to state estimates.
“A major contributor to the flooding event was a significant snowfall that affected these same counties the week of Dec. 6, 2010,” LePage explained in the letter to the president. More than 15 inches of snow fell over much of central and Down East Maine, followed by 3 to 8 inches of rain on Dec. 12.
“The runoff of rainfall was compounded by the rapid melting of snow produced by the Dec. 6 storm,” LePage wrote. He noted that another major snowstorm and a blizzard shortly afterward have hampered permanent repairs to roads, bridges and culverts.
The governor called the per capita impact of the damage “staggering.”
The damage averaged $1.35 per person across the state, but $34 per capita Down East, $38 per capita in the Unorganized Territory in northern Penobscot County and $51 per capita in the town of Springfield, according to state estimates.
On Wednesday, Calais City Manager Diane Barnes called the governor’s request “good news. For Calais, the much-needed financial assistance will help us to repair our damage without passing the full burden on to our taxpayers.”
After the state submitted its original request for a federal assessment, based only on the rain event, then-Gov. John Baldacci announced on Jan. 4 that Maine was unable to reach the federal threshold of $1.65 million in storm damage. In one of his last acts as governor, Baldacci transferred $100,000 from the State Emergency Contingent Account to help affected communities.
Upon taking office, LePage directed the assessment be redone to include the Dec. 6 snowstorm. That assessment was completed on Jan. 13 and it determined overall damage topped the federal threshold.
In a letter Wednesday to Obama, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe said, “The Governor [of Maine] has determined that this event is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and affected counties and tribal areas, and has requested public assistance.”
The senators urged the president to declare the affected counties of Maine a major disaster area so federal funding could be awarded.