BROWNVILLE, Maine — Seventeen days after severe flooding struck the town, Joe’s Repair Shop in Brownville is up and running.
“It feels good to turn wrenches instead of hitting hammers,” said Mike Washburn, an employee, referring to the extensive repair required at Joe’s.
The shop received heavy damage to its foundation when a thunderstorm stalled over Brownville and surrounding areas and caused severe flooding on June 23-24. And Washburn said that even though they’re finally back on track, there is much work to be done.
That’s the case for many businesses and homeowners in the area — a reason Town Manager Matthew Pineo said Tuesday he’s asking Gov. Paul LePage to release funds from the State Contingency Fund to fill the gap where emergency federal funding will fall short.
“The main thing is, there is no help for the homeowner, the business owner and a small town that’s suffering during this economy,” Pineo said Tuesday during a press conference.
The town manager said the federal funds that LePage requested from the Federal Highway Commission in a proclamation on July 2 would only cover federal roads in the area and nothing else.
“We just got the request [for Contingency Fund monies] and we’re looking into it,” said Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for LePage, Tuesday afternoon.
The State Contingency Fund has $350,000 as of Tuesday afternoon, Bennett said. The spokeswoman said that same amount is added to the fund every fiscal year. In mid-June, LePage used $164,800 from last fiscal year’s fund to cover budget shortfalls for a lawyer organization that covers indigent defendants.
The total estimated damage for Brownville and surrounding towns — including Milo, Patten and Sebec — stands at $1.25 million, the town manager said, which makes the area fall short of the threshold required to receive federal disaster relief from Federal Emergency Management Agency.
For that reason, Pineo said he’s hoping to change those requirements with the help of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, along with U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud.
The town manager said he is scheduled for a conference call with FEMA on Thursday from Collins’ office to explore funding options for rural areas and small towns programs.
At this point, Pineo said, any help would be appreciated.
To give one example of the costs incurred by repairs, Pineo said the town of Brownville spent $50,000 on Quarry Avenue, which was one of the roads with the most damage.
The town has used 7,000 yards of gravel and 2,000 yards of slate for road repairs, the town manager said, which have amounted to $130,000 for the town so far.
Pineo said Joe’s Repair Shop and Simple Sacks, a textile business across the road, were two businesses particularly affected by the severe flooding. The ground surrounding Joe’s was torn up by the flooding and caused the building’s foundation to be revealed, the town manager said, and the center of the building’s foundation at Simple Sacks has sunk a few feet.
Damage to homeowners’ driveways was visible on a few of the roads Tuesday, including one in which a washed-out culvert made the property inaccessible from the road.
The town manager said more than 17 municipalities from around Maine, including Maine State Police, provided more than $70,000 worth of relief work for the Brownville area — none of which have been paid for their services. Pineo said none of them have billed the town yet, but he hopes relief funds will help the town pay those debts.
If the town doesn’t receive enough funding, Pineo said, taxes could go up for Brownville residents. The current tax rate is $17.30 per $1,000 valuation.
And for small businesses such as Joe’s Repair Shop, economic uncertainty remains.
“Either you’re going to get through it or you’re not,” Washburn said.