The Federal Emergency Management Agency has denied the state’s request for major disaster reimbursement in connection with the December ice storm, angering community leaders in hard-hit Kennebec County.
Some local officials said FEMA’s decision may be because of a recent change in how the agency measures ice storms.
“What the ice storm did is reveal a flaw in FEMA’s policy in terms of eligibility for reimbursement,” said Mark Robinson, town manager for Fayette, a town of 1,140 that requested about $40,000 in reimbursement from the storm. “An ice storm has far more negative impact on operations financially than snow does. Some people don’t realize that in Maine dealing with snow is no problem for us. Dealing with ice is far more difficult.”
The change in policy occurred in 2009, according to local officials.
FEMA officials could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.
The ice storm crippled dozens of central Maine communities and caused power outages for several days for tens of thousands of residents. At least one person died from carbon monoxide poisoning in relation to the storm. The state documented more than $1.8 million in damages.
The majority of work for many towns in the central Maine counties of was to make roads safe for travel, cleaning up brush and debris from fallen trees.
Gov. Paul LePage issued a statement Thursday explaining the rejection, saying that FEMA determined the damage “was not beyond the capabilities of the state and local governments.”
Kennebec County submitted for reimbursement about $800,000 in sand and salt use, unanticipated overtime and other emergency expenses related to the storm, according to Sean Goodwin, deputy director of Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency.
Once FEMA reviewed the report, which was submitted by the Maine Emergency Management Agency, the federal agency found only a little more than $300,000 in emergency reimbursements because of the change in its policy, Goodwin said. The threshold for the county to receive emergency funding is a little over $425,000.
“It does cause quite a problem,” Goodwin said. “Small towns don’t have play room to pay for that. They’re not going to get that back.”
Monmouth, with a population of about 4,000, was essentially shut down because of the storm, according to Town Manager Curtis Lunt.
“It was pretty much a frozen state,” he said. “A lot of people were with no power for close to a week. It caused a lot of difficulty.”
The town requested about $48,000 in emergency reimbursement, Lunt said, and having to spend nearly $50,000 of unscheduled money is difficult.
“It would have helped because like every town affected, we had everyone working 24/7 for a week,” he said. “It was traumatic and those expenses weren’t planned.
“It caused a lot of difficulty. I guess we have to have buildings blown over to have help from the feds.”
If the same policy was in place during the landmark ice storm of 1998, Robinson doesn’t think the majority of the reimbursement requested would be approved.
That storm caused up to $48 million in FEMA-eligible damages, according to the state.
“I don’t think so, I think the only thing approved would be tree and brush removal,” he said. “In actuality, in my opinion what we experienced during the holiday season was worse, in terms of road conditions.”
Robinson said that several towns are writing resolutions for MEMA to report to FEMA about the issues with the change in policy.
“The message we’re attempting to send to FEMA as part of this resolution effort is hopefully to highlight change for the future, so that the next year we have a significant ice event, we can get help,” he said.
“This is really important. We’re not whining and having our hands stretched to the feds. If you don’t live it, it’s not on your mind.”