May 24, 2018
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Despite $350,000 damage from June storm, railway qualifies for no relief aid

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

BROWNVILLE, Maine — Three businesses employing no more than a dozen people will get $34,500 in federal aid next month for damage suffered in a freak thunderstorm this summer, but a railroad employing 175 workers will get none, its president said Thursday.

Robert Grindrod, president and CEO of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway Inc., said the storm did about $350,000 in damage to railroad tracks the company owns. The sudden, unexpected expenditure forced the company to delay infrastructure improvements it had planned for this year, he said.

“I guess I am getting kind of used to this. We are a private business. We don’t usually get any help,” Grindrod said Thursday. “The delegation [Maine’s elected representatives to Congress] got some money for some other businesses, but not us.”

U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, announced earlier this week that Joe’s Repair Shop will get $25,000; Simple Sacks, $3,500; and Sebec Village will receive $6,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds next month. The money will pay for damage done by a stalled line of thunderstorms that dumped 6-8 inches of rain on a 3½-mile-wide area of Brownville within four hours on June 23-24.

The rushing flood washed out several sections of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic track in the High Street area and along nearby Route 11. The track is a key component connecting southern and northern Maine. The tracks were operational within a week, Grindrod said.

Maine Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Lynette Miller said that five businesses suffered extensive damage from the storm, counting the three $34,500 winners and MM&A.

But federal regulations require that at least six businesses suffer damage within a county to qualify for aid, said Deborah Johnson, director of the office of community development at the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

State and federal officials from several agencies, including DECD, devoted weeks to getting the businesses some help, but found that most federal and state regulations required more damage be done to a wider area for aid to become available, Johnson said.

But that might not be the final answer for the freight rail service. Johnson said efforts to secure aid for MM&A were continuing.

“It was really positive to help those [three] small business. At least we could get that done,” Johnson said. “From our perspective it [the storm] was a huge disaster, but when you come at it from a federal perspective, it just didn’t rise to that level. In spite of that, we were able to get some of the federal dollars that we received and help those three small businesses.”

The three businesses qualified for aid under a microenterprise grant. Grindrod’s company is not micro, Johnson said. If it does qualify for help, the aid likely will be a low-interest loan, she said.

Montreal, Maine & Atlantic is rebounding well from a traffic downturn that forced it to sell about 240 miles of northern Penobscot and Aroostook County track to the state for $10.5 million a few years ago, but could still use the help, Grindrod said.

The company has seen an approximately 10 percent increase in traffic since this time last year, said Grindrod, who scoffs at state estimates that peg overall rail traffic growth in northern Maine at or close to 50 percent. Most of his increase, he said, comes from forest products industry trans-shipments — usually wood chips.

The company has hired eight more engineers and train service workers over the last year and is in the process of hiring three or four more workers each for its shop and train service departments, he said.

Another 14 engineers could come aboard if the company secures another contract it is working on, Grindrod said. He declined to elaborate.

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