UPPER ENCHANTED TOWNSHIP — There’s little hope that outside money can help pay for repairing private roads washed out during a major storm local, state and federal officials concluded after touring the network of severely damaged roads in northern Somerset County Monday morning.

Gov. Paul LePage referred a request for emergency help from the state for the Somerset County roads to Speaker of the House Mark Eves, with whom he is involved in an ongoing lawsuit, and accused Eves in a letter about the situation of being “not interested in properly funding bills that benefit the Maine people.”

The roads — which branch off private Spencer Road, which begins at U.S. Route 201 between Jackman and The Forks and crosses the county west into Franklin County — were damaged in June 28 flash flooding that washed out several miles of access points to camps, affecting more than 100 property owners in the area. But all of the roads are private — a fact that officials have previously said would make it hard to find additional funding to assist the local road associations.

Monday, more than three weeks after the floods, the roads — all of them dirt and gravel — were still blocked by large rocks and boulders in some parts, some impassable, ungraded, and new roadways skirted around dropoffs as steep as 30 feet where the road used to be.

“Sure it happens in other places, but I don’t think to this scale,” said Joe Gagnon, president of the Mile Ten Road Owners Association, which oversees maintenance on Old Spencer Road, where a roughly 30-foot deep dropoff remains near one section of patched-over dirt road. “I don’t know of another spot in Maine where there are this many private roads and they’ve seen this extent of damage.”

Monday’s visit from an engineer with the U.S. Department of Agriculture brought together several local and state officials to look into what many considered one of the only avenues available for outside assistance.

LEPAGE-EVES FEUD

Meanwhile, a letter written in response to an inquiry from House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, and released by LePage’s office Monday said that while options under state law to repair and maintain private roads are limited, the state could make engineers and other staff from the Maine Department of Transportation available to provide assistance and advice on construction.

McCabe wrote to LePage earlier this month urging him to “do whatever you can” and to possibly declare a state of emergency for the Jackman region in response to the destruction of both state and private roads in the area because of the flash floods, which were caused by torrential rain. In addition to the damage on private roads, the Parlin Pond bridge on U.S. Route 201 was washed out when more than seven inches of rain fell in four hours June 28.

LePage said he would be willing to call the Legislature back to fund an emergency bill to provide financial assistance and relief in Somerset County, but that the request would have to go through Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, whom LePage said “has made it very clear he is not interested in properly funding bills that benefit the Maine people, especially if the Governor asks him to do so.”

But Eves said that McCabe and LePage should be able to work it out.

“To date the governor has not reached out to me to discuss Rep. McCabe’s concerns about the conditions of the washed-out roads in Somerset County,” Eves said in an emailed statement Monday evening. “I encourage the governor to sit down with Rep. McCabe to work towards a solution for the people affected in Somerset County.

“Rep. McCabe understands the needs of these communities. I think together they could come up with a solid plan to address the immediate concerns and ongoing challenges faced by rural areas of our state.”

Eves is appealing the dismissal of a lawsuit he filed against LePage over a year ago saying the governor acted illegally when he threatened to withhold over $1 million in state funding to the charter school Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Fairfield after it hired Eves as the school’s president.

‘WE CAN’T HELP FIX ROADS’

After spending more than three hours meeting with members of the road association and touring the 13-mile stretch of road it is responsible for, the USDA engineer said he didn’t see the association as likely qualifying for the program he had originally envisioned might be of assistance. He said that more work would have to be done to assess whether residents might qualify for another USDA cost-sharing program.

Dan Baumert, a state conservation engineer with the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, said Monday that he originally was considering whether the USDA’s Emergency Watershed Protection Program, which addresses imminent hazards to infrastructure resulting from natural disaster, might be implemented.

The program can cover up to 75 percent of construction costs, but Baumert explained Monday the money cannot simply go to repairs in an area where there is not an ongoing threat to the watershed, such as an unstable stream bank or debris-clogged waterway.

“So far everything I’ve seen that has to be done is just fixing roads,” Baumert said about two-thirds of the way through Monday’s assessment. “That’s something we can’t really help with.”

Another program through the USDA — the Environmental Quality Incentives Program — could be of help, Baumert suggested, but the agency would need to do further work and likely make another visit to the area before they could determine that, he said.

The EQIP program is aimed at helping agricultural producers or forestland owners implement and improve conservation practices and could be used to help repair at least one bridge on Old Spencer Road where water quality and fish passage might be affected, Baumert said.

He said he would be meeting with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency in Skowhegan to discuss the program. Even still, the road association would need to apply for and be granted funding, which might not be available until 2017 — well beyond the road association’s targeted goals for repairs.

PRIVATE VS. PUBLIC

“A lot of owners have been really patient and understanding, but there’s going to come a point where they get really antsy,” said Russ Flagg, a member of the board of directors for the Mile Ten Road Owners Association. “We want to get everything done as soon as possible.”

The association is one of three major road associations in the area — others are the No Road Owners Road Association and Mile Four Road Owners Association — that sustained the worst damage.

Flagg estimated Monday that the association spent about $6,000 on road maintenance before the June storm and has since then spent about another $6,000 to get some of the roads passable.

Blaine Miller, president of Dirigo Timberlands, which has a contract with the road owners association for maintenance, Monday estimated the cost of repairs at a conservative $70,000 to $100,000. There are 74 property owners in the Mile Ten Road Owners Association.

The total cost could be borne by association members, who pay about $200 annually in dues, according to Gagnon, but it might be a hardship for some, he said. In addition, state law prohibits road associations from charging more than one percent of a landowner’s municipal property valuation in a calendar year.

“Probably about one-third of people would have an issue with it,” Gagnon said. “You think that with a second home they would be able to afford it, but that’s not always the case.”

In the days following the June 28 storm, several residents were trapped and while everyone has had a chance to get out — either by using four-wheelers or ATVs or on foot — there are some roads in the Mile Ten association that remain impassable to vehicles, Gagnon said.

He said the association is looking to get any kind of help it can, but said Monday’s visit from the USDA “wasn’t too promising.”

Rep. Larry Dunphy, U-Embden, whose District 118 encompasses most of the affected area, was also on Monday’s tour, and said that while he sympathized with landowners, it could set a dangerous precedent for the state to offer financial assistance on private roads, many of which are gated.

“It would be one thing if the cost was $2 million,” Dunphy said. “But if the cost is a couple hundred thousand dollars, divided by 74, that doesn’t seem like an excessive burden on a private individual. Especially if they want to block their roads.”

McCabe, who is running to represent Maine Senate District 26, which includes the unorganized territory of Somerset County, said that while he didn’t necessarily think the state should pay for repairs on private roads, more should be done to prepare for and address extreme weather events across the state. In his letter to LePage, McCabe also urged the governor to develop a plan with private landowners to address challenges on private roads, often used by Maine’s rafting, hunting and fishing and wood products industries.

“These rain events aren’t that uncommon,” McCabe said in an interview Monday. “It’s a big issue that affects municipalities, as well as in this case, private roads. What if this was the town of Harmony? Or the town of Canaan? I guess they might be eligible for disaster relief, but they’d still be on the hook for a lot of money and a lot of up front money too.”

Local police and emergency services personnel, as well as the Maine Forest Service, have expressed concerns over the lack of access on the roads, but at the same time several leaders of the road association at Monday’s gathering said they would be hesitant to completely open the roads up to the public — even if it meant making them eligible for government assistance.

“It’s something we would have to stop and look at long and hard,” Flagg said. “We want what’s best for the association, and whether that’s a lesser impact on people’s pocket books or the possibility of getting rid of the gates, we’d have to look at it.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

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Twitter: @rachel_ohm