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.
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.
So far, the town has used 2,500 yards of sand, about 55 percent of its total, for the roads, he said. The town has also given out about 100 yards to residents, Hickey said.
At least one municipality — Belgrade — has run out of salt, according to the town manager.
The town has enough of a sand-salt mixture to handle at least two more storms, but its salt reserve is empty, Town Manager Greg Gill said. He hopes that the town’s order for more salt will be filled next week.
The head of the company that supplies the town with sand and mixes it with salt, LR Nadeau Inc. in Manchester, said he has been refilling salt sheds for customers a lot sooner this winter. Larry Nadeau, of Litchfield, said typically he gets requests for more salt-sand mixing in the middle of February, but icy weather in December caused sheds to run out soon after the ice storm hit. Nadeau’s company delivers and mixes sand and salt for its customers, who are responsible for ordering salt.
He said customers who didn’t plan ahead ended up not getting more salt when needed because one of the major salt distributors in the state, Harcros Chemicals, a national company with a salt storehouse in Searsport, ran out.
A request for comment from Harcros Chemicals’ Westbrook office was referred to the national headquarters in Kansas, where a phone call was not returned.