BROWNVILLE, Maine — The impact of the damage created by a thunderstorm that stalled over a three-mile section of town last weekend likely will top more than $4 million when repairs are finished next week, officials said Tuesday.
As Gov. Paul LePage toured flood-damaged areas, including the area in Milo where a 29-year-old man died Sunday, a railroad official estimated Tuesday that the section of rail line wiped out by flooding will cost his railroad $500,000 to fix and its customers $500,000 a day.
Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway CEO Robert Grindrod said the storm hit the state rail network at “the neck of the bottle” — a single track three miles south of Brownville Junction, a key connection for all rail traffic between Aroostook County and southern Maine.
The rail damage, Grindrod said, is among the worst he has seen and in an amazingly small area. Seventeen spots totaling only 1,000 feet were washed away, but effectively forced rail service users ranging from Old Town Fuel and Fiber to Searsport’s GAC Chemical to do without rail service or seek other transportation, he said.
“It’s very much like a hurricane, but very localized,” Grindrod said Tuesday. “If you drew a circle about three miles in diameter using Brownville as a center, you would have gotten just about the whole storm.”
LePage stopped short of agreeing with Grindrod’s estimates but his deputy press secretary, Evan Beal, predicted that the area easily would find the almost $1.8 million in documented infrastructure damage needed to qualify for disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The rail damage won’t qualify for aid, but the economic impact of $500,000 a day will, Beal said.
“I want to let the people of Brownville know that we are going to keep working hard to get things fixed,” LePage said in a statement. “The process is under way by MEMA to find a way forward and they are doing a great job.”
Documenting the damage to meet or exceed the nearly $1.8 million minimum to qualify for federal aid is important, LePage said, and will take awhile.
“It’s more important,” LePage said, “to get the roads open and repaired so people can get moving, get the railroads repaired, get the trains moving. That’s what we are here for.”
LePage met with Town Manager Matthew Pineo and Maine Emergency Management Agency officials at the town office. Pineo spent much of Tuesday polling other communities hard-hit by rains in order to increase Brownville’s chances of getting disaster relief aid.
The 1.5 inches of rain that fell on Brownville overnight Monday didn’t appear to add to damage already inflicted by the 6 to 8 inches of rain that fell overnight Saturday, said Walter Cook, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.
All of the road and rail repairs that have been made since Sunday “stayed in place,” Pineo said, “but we still have some heavy water flows. Nothing was carried away.”
“I think they are doing pretty well. The DOT has stepped up and done a very, very remarkable job,” Cook said.
More than 50 workers from the Maine Department of Transportation, Brownville, MM&A, area municipalities and private have been working since Sunday to reopen four roads and the rail line.
Only Route 11 has been reopened. The other damaged roads remain closed except to local and emergency traffic, Pineo said. He anticipates having the roads reopened by 5 p.m. Friday, just in time for the Fourth of July holiday. Full damage repair might take longer.
The section of track that runs from Brownville south, which MM&A owns, will reopen sometime Thursday, with the northern connection opening Monday or Tuesday, Grindrod said.
State transportation workers are shoring up roads, installing rainwater control ditches and replacing guardrails first to help get traffic flowing, Pineo said.
“I think we are in the clear right now,” he said.
The weekend’s flooding began, National Weather Service meteorologists said, when a large line of rainstorms and microbursts stalled for several hours overnight Saturday, pouring at least 6 inches of rain onto Brownville within two or three hours, mostly within the town’s center. The town’s flood defenses were overwhelmed.
Pineo expressed fears Monday that long-term rail repairs could lead to layoffs by several northern Maine manufacturers and farmers who rely on the rail line, a main artery connecting northern and southern Maine.
Grindrod said he hadn’t heard anything like that from the line’s customers. One of the customers, East Millinocket’s Great Northern Paper Co. LLC, won’t be hurt too much by the track washout, company spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne said.
“We rely partially on the rail line to ship our paper products, but we are currently delivering a strong majority of our orders via trucks,” he said.
Town officials have pegged damage repair estimates at $200,000 in Brownville alone. Milo and Patten also were hard-hit by the rains of the last several days, Beal said.
Flood watches were posted for northern Washington, Penobscot, Piscataquis and southern Aroostook counties, with 2 to 3 inches of rainfall expected by Tuesday night.
LePage was accompanied by Maine Emergency Management Commissioner Robert McAleer, Beal and LePage’s legal counsel on the trip.
Workers at Joe’s Repair Shop in Brownville expressed astonishment that LePage never got out of his car during his tour of the neighborhood. They said it was rather unfeeling of the governor.
“He was 10 feet away. He could have come in and looked at the destruction,” business owner Joe Washburn said. “ We’re probably the worst hit of all the private businesses here.”
LePage was Pineo’s guest during the tour and didn’t control where the long line of vehicles stopped, Beal said. LePage did get out of his car and talk to people in the area where Charles Bromiley IV, 29, of Milo was killed when his vehicle ran into a washed-out section of road on Sunday morning, Beal said.
Grindrod said he was pleased with LePage’s visit.
“There are a lot of other things going on in the state of Maine and let’s face it, five miles away there wasn’t even any flooding damage,” Grindrod said.