February 18, 2019
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FEMA officials inspect damage from June thunderstorm flooding in Brownville, Milo, Patten

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
A driveway was washed away from under a pick-up truck that was parked over the culvert along the Stickney Hill Road in Brownville. The repair work following the recent flooding has created a huge financial burden for the town of Brownville.

BROWNVILLE, Maine — After state officials last week urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency to investigate the aftermath of heavy flooding in Piscataquis and Penobscot counties caused by stalled thunderstorms last month, FEMA officials were on the ground Monday to assess damage in Brownville, Milo and Patten.

Brownville Town Manager Matthew Pineo said three teams, each including three FEMA representatives guided by town employees and Maine Department of Transportation crews, toured the area throughout the day.

Since much work has already been done to repair road and railway damage, the towns also are sharing images of the immediate aftermath of the flooding with the investigators, according to Pineo.

Pineo said he doesn’t expect to hear about the results of the FEMA investigation until Tuesday or later in the week.

In the weeks following the late-June storms, U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Rep. Mike Michaud, Gov. Paul LePage and other state officials visited the towns and urged FEMA to assess damage for itself to determine if the federal government will offer aid.

“These assessments are critical as we work to determine if there is any federal assistance that might be available to help reduce the burden on towns and their residents,” Collins wrote in a July 20 statement. “It is important that FEMA see firsthand the damage caused by these storms and make their best assessment from the ground rather than from behind a desk.”

Early this month, estimated damage in the area fell about $700,000 short of the $1.8 million minimum threshold FEMA requires before it steps in to offer aid to a state. Pineo said those numbers are still about the same.

The torrent of water overwhelmed the town’s flood defenses, wiping out roads and railroad tracks in Brownville crucial to industry and contributing to the death of a Milo man on June 24. The Penobscot County town of Patten also was severely hit by the storm. Some total damage estimates have run as high as $4 million.

Maine Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Lynette Miller has said that while FEMA’s $1.8 million minimum damage threshold might seem to be met by the damage done, FEMA regulations carry within them minimum standards for municipal, county and statewide damage required that would likely cut into that overall figure considerably.

Enough damage has been reported in Brownville, other Piscataquis County towns and on county property to meet the qualifications, but the $417,000 amount of damage reported in Patten and Penobscot County falls short of the $521,798 threshold required there, and the statewide estimate, Miller said.

FEMA and MEMA officials will review the numbers together before FEMA starts its final review, Miller said. And all agencies and officials involved have pledged to help secure disaster aid from sources beside FEMA.

For example, the damage to individual private property will almost certainly not meet its subthreshold, Miller said, but FEMA is working with the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development to see whether other funds are available.

History could also play a part in the FEMA review. Damage done by previous incidents that didn’t qualify for FEMA aid could become part of the state’s case, and FEMA has the power to make exceptions to its own regulations, Miller said.

That’s why residents and businesses should report all damage to their municipal or county officials, and the congressional delegation’s unanimous support for FEMA relief will play a critical role in the process, state and town officials have said.

The state’s simple inability to pay for the damage itself could be enough of an argument for FEMA, Miller said.

BDN writer Nick Sambides Jr. contributed to this report.

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