January 13

Kennebec County towns, cities seeing higher costs in aftermath of icy weather

Municipalities are reporting depleted salt and sand piles and higher overtime costs, but Kennebec County has yet to qualify for federal aid for damages from the December ice storm.

By Paul Koenig pkoenig@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Icy weather this winter has eaten into municipalities’ sand and salt supplies and maintenance budgets, but most aren’t worried about going over budget or running out of supplies.

click image to enlarge

SAND: Tom Purty collects a pail of sand Monday at Augusta Public Works. Icy weather this winter has eaten into municipal sand and salt supplies, but most municipalities expect to make it through the winter if the state doesn’t see a repeat of December weather. Cities are also reporting dwindling amounts of budgeted overtime for plowing and snow removal.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

click image to enlarge

SALT: Augusta Public Works employee Ross Boucher collects a shovel Monday from the city’s salt pile while unloading a plow truck. Icy weather this winter has eaten into municipal sand and salt supplies, but most municipalities expect to make it through the winter if the state doesn’t see a repeat of December weather.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Report damages to state

The Maine Emergency Management Agency is still asking households and businesses to report damages from the December ice storm to determine whether the state is eligible to receive federal funds.

The state could receive assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency if it’s shown that enough households were damaged as a result of the storm that caused more than 200,000 power outages statewide. For businesses owners, damages can include lost revenue because of the storm.

Call 211, toll free, to report damages.

Only one report per household is needed.


MEMA advises:

• List and document the damages with as much detail as you can.

• Keep records and receipts of any repairs you have done.

• Call your insurance agent to see if the damage is covered.


Source: Maine Emergency Management Agency

While municipalities could potentially receive federal funds reimbursing costs from the ice storm in late December, Kennebec County hasn’t reported enough damages from the storm yet to receive the funds.

In Gardiner, which has already used two-thirds of its salt and winter maintenance overtime budgets, the potential assistance would prevent possible cuts to other portions of its public works budget.

“We’ve had to budget tighter and tighter every year, so there’s no wiggle room,” City Manager Scott Morelli said. “If we go over there, we have to go under somewhere else.”

That could mean less summer paving, he said, a budget line that was already cut down to $127,000 from the $170,000 requested in the first budget proposal last spring. The city also hopes to use a large chunk of the approved sum for debt service on a planned Highland Avenue project with the Maine Department of Transportation.

Municipalities from eligible counties would be reimbursed for 90 percent of costs associated with the ice storm that hit just before Christmas if the Federal Emergency Management Agency declares the event a disaster, Maine Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Lynette Miller said.

However, Kennebec County, along with Cumberland, Oxford, Sagadahoc and York, haven’t yet met the thresholds required to receive public assistance from FEMA for storm-related costs.

The Maine Emergency Management Agency sent a letter Friday asking FEMA for a preliminary damage assessment for the $3.7 million of reported damages from the ice storm. Since then, estimated costs had risen to about $4.7 million as of Monday afternoon, Miller said, almost half of which are from the Maine Department of Transportation.

To qualify for funds from FEMA and the state, counties need to meet a threshold of $3.50 of damage per capita, Miller said. She said Kennebec County sits at about $2.55, while the more sparsely populated Washington County is at almost $30 per person.

If FEMA verifies the reported damages are correct, Gov. Paul LePage will request a disaster declaration from President Barack Obama to allow the FEMA funds to be released, Miller said. The federal agency reimburses 75 percent of the eligible damages and the state reimburses 15 percent, she said.

Morelli said that would have a big impact on Gardiner’s public works budget and the overages expected if the area sees a repeat of December’s weather in the remaining winter months. The city submitted about $60,000 in costs for the ice storm, according to Public Works Director Tony LaPlante.

The department has depleted 61 percent of its salt budget, half of its sand budget and more than 65 percent of its overtime budget, LePlante said. The overtime numbers don’t include the last two weekends, which also saw icy road conditions.

In Augusta, the city has used about half of its budgeted sand-salt mixture, totaling about 2,200 cubic yards, according to Jerry Dostie, street superintendent for Augusta Public Works.

The city has also used up about 40 percent of its overtime budget for plowing and snow removal, according to Public Works Director Lesley Jones. She said it’s ahead of the past few years, but she didn’t know by how much. The extra work is largely because of the low temperatures, freezing rain and winter storms occurring on the weekends, Jones said.

“Freezing rain goes through resources like nobody’s business. I’d rather plow a foot of snow than fight freezing rain,” she said.

The road commissioner in West Gardiner said the icy weather has led to an increased demand from residents for sand. The town fills buckets of sand up for residents to take, but the demand has tripled in the last few weeks, Road Commissioner Gary Hickey said.

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