Obama OKs disaster aid for counties

Posted Feb. 01, 2011, at 7:59 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The federal government on Tuesday approved federal disaster assistance for three of the four Maine counties and the Passamaquoddy tribal lands damaged in severe storms in December 2010.

Gov. Paul LePage had requested that four counties — Aroostook, Piscataquis, Washington and Penobscot — be declared a major disaster area. He announced Tuesday that President Obama approved his request for all but Penobscot County.

Aroostook, Piscataquis and Washington counties will receive federal disaster assistance worth up to 75 percent of the estimated $1.7 million in damage.

Of the four counties, Washington County suffered the most damage from heavy rains and flooding Dec. 12-19.

“We are very, very pleased,” Washington County Manager Betsy Fitzgerald said Tuesday. She said the federal funds would help relieve the burden on the small municipalities that experienced significant damage. “With federal assistance, the damage will be repaired the way it ought to be instead of on the cheap.”

On Jan. 18, Gov. LePage sent a letter to the president requesting the declaration for Aroostook, Penobscot, Piscataquis and Washington counties and lands of the Passamaquoddy Tribe located entirely within Washington County.

Assistance for Penobscot County has not been granted on the grounds that the county did not reach a required threshold in disaster costs.

The federal assistance will reimburse state and local governments 75 percent of the costs for emergency response efforts and to repair or replace storm-damaged public property and infrastructure, including roads and bridges.

“Maine was hit by severe storms that brought heavy flooding,” LePage said in a statement Tuesday. “The president’s declaration will help us to repair flood damage and be better prepared for dangerous weather in the future.”

The governor expressed disappointment that Penobscot County was not included in the declaration and will assess the feasibility of continuing to pursue assistance for the county.

U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins also praised the president’s action Tuesday in a joint press release. The senators wrote to the president Jan. 19 in support of Gov. LePage’s request.

“This declaration will provide the affected communities with the resources they need to repair infrastructure damage and clear dangerous debris,” Snowe and Collins said in the statement.

The federal government originally denied Maine’s request in early January, based only on a Dec. 12 rainstorm, saying that the state had not reached the required $1.65 million threshold.

In his request to the president, LePage linked the devastating rainstorm with a snowstorm Dec. 6. He categorized the two storms as one event that caused significant and widespread damage.

More than 15 inches of snow fell over much of central and Down East Maine in early December, followed by 3 to 8 inches of rain Dec. 12.

After the state submitted its original request for a federal assessment, based only on the rain event, Maine was unable to reach the federal threshold of $1.65 million in storm damage. In one of his last acts as governor, John Baldacci transferred $100,000 from the State Emergency Contingent Account to help the affected communities.

Upon taking office, LePage directed the assessment to continue to include the Dec. 6 snowstorm.

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