February 20, 2019
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Brownville declares state of emergency; LePage plans visit

BROWNVILLE, Maine — Town leaders declared a state of emergency and warned motorists to avoid areas devastated by weekend flooding as they awaited more heavy rain forecast for Monday night.

With damage repair estimates already at $200,000, Town Manager Matthew Pineo said the Board of Selectmen declared an emergency Monday and pressed Piscataquis County leaders and Gov. Paul LePage to do the same for the center of Brownville, the area hardest hit by flooding that led to the death of motorist Charles Bromiley IV, 29, of Milo.

LePage will visit the area Tuesday. The governor and senior administration officials will meet with Pineo and county emergency management personnel to view firsthand a number of the sites that received major damage from the heavy rain and flooding, according to a press release from the governor’s office. It said the town of Milo also saw significant damage.

“Our goal is for these towns to get on their feet as soon as possible,” the governor said in a statement. “The sooner we know what it’s going to take to do that, the sooner we can determine what options might exist to help.”

The state will need to document almost $1.8 million in infrastructure damage to be able to qualify for disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse affected towns, the governor’s office said.

Pineo said he feared more flooding would wash out repairs to four town roads and a rail line essential to northern Maine’s economy, which all were closed by the flood. Forecasts predicted rains starting by 5 p.m. Monday laced with thunderstorms and microbursts much like those that caused the flooding, he said.

“What we are discussing right now is the economic impact to the rest of the state with the rail line down,” Pineo said at a press conference Monday afternoon. “It is very important that we get this [line] back on track as soon as possible so we don’t have unemployment lines starting with layoffs and we don’t have a loss to our economy outside of the town of Brownville.”

More flooding could hurt the East Millinocket paper mill, Aroostook County and any other Maine businesses that rely on the line, Pineo said. Traffic on the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway line has tripled over the past year, he said.

A rail car derailed in Brownville Junction on Monday, but town officials said they were unsure whether the derailment occurred because of damage to the tracks caused by flooding. No one was reported injured.

Bromiley died after driving his vehicle into a washed-out section of road at the Milo end of Pleasant River Road. The crash happened about 5 a.m. Sunday, when his car hit a section of road, about 5 feet deep and 20 to 30 feet wide, that had been torn away by the floodwaters, police said.

The weekend storm dumped about 8 inches of rain on Brownville in about six hours, with at least 6 inches coming in two or three hours, said Ken Wallingford, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Caribou.

The deluge overwhelmed flood controls and washed out the Brownville end of High Street, Church Street between Route 11 and Schoodic Lake, Lakeview Road and the entire Stickney Hill Road, said Dennis Amero, a crew supervisor with the Maine Department of Transportation.

Town leaders have pleaded with state and federal officials to get help to the town as soon as possible, Pineo said. U.S. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine, said she spoke Monday with Pineo and LePage about the flooding.

In a statement, Snowe said she offered to Pineo “any and all assistance I can in repairing the destruction caused by this weekend’s severe flooding.”

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in a statement that she will “continue to work with the governor and others to help secure whatever federal assistance may be available for the recovery process.”

Clouds were heavy over Brownville and rainfall was expected to resume later Monday and continue into Tuesday. The National Weather Service issued a flood warning Monday afternoon for urban areas and small streams in southeastern Piscataquis County, including Dover-Foxcroft and Brownville Junction.

Forty-three Maine Department of Transportation road crew members, plus a town road crew sent from Millinocket by Town Manager Eugene Conlogue, were working to repair four town roads washed out or closed by the flooding.

The state transportation workers came from Charleston, Enfield, Guilford, Milo and Plymouth, areas in which they normally maintain state roads. Transportation officials also hired Higgins Construction of Charleston and Gerrish Construction of Brownville, which responded immediately, Amero said.

Town and state crew leaders established a headquarters in the town office.

Pineo said the road and rail crews were performing superbly, having responded quickly to the crisis. One of their biggest impediments has been traffic on or near the washout points, people stopping and gawking at the work done, he said. He encouraged motorists to avoid the areas if possible.

Pineo predicted that the damage from Monday and Tuesday’s rains would not be insurmountable.

“We will continue. We are tough. We are Mainers,” he said.

Earlier Monday, a flood watch was issued for parts of Aroostook, Penobscot, Piscataquis and Washington counties.

Officials at the National Weather Service in Caribou said a flood watch would be in effect from 2 p.m. Monday until Wednesday morning.

Other parts of the state, including Patten and the Amity area, also saw localized flooding from the weekend storms.

A powerful system arrived in the state Monday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service, with rain forecast to develop from west to east. The heaviest rain was expected to fall Monday night into Tuesday night. Embedded thunderstorms also were expected. The stalled low-pressure system will bring widespread showers and thunderstorms into Thursday.

Officials with the weather service said the system could produce several inches of rain before it leaves the area, elevating the threat of flooding after this past weekend’s rain.

“There has been some flooding along Route 11 in Patten,” Tony Mignone, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Caribou, said Monday.
“There also have been some washouts reported in that area. We are concerned because the ground is already saturated from this weekend’s rain, so any added rainfall brings the potential for flooding.”

In Aroostook County, the town of Orient picked up an estimated 8 inches of rain over the weekend. Mignone said that weather records are not collected by that community, but he said Monday that it is a substantial amount of rain to fall in such a short period of time.

BDN writer Jen Lynds contributed to this report.

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