Torrential rain washed out a network of private roads in northern Somerset County, trapping residents of homes and camps and spurring worries by local and state officials about emergency responders’ access to the remote area.

More than 7 inches of rain fell in five hours overnight Tuesday into Wednesday in a small area of Somerset County between Jackman and The Forks, according to the National Weather Service.

The rain — which more than doubled the weather service’s flash flood standards for the day — heavily damaged Spencer Road, a private gravel and dirt road off U.S. Route 201 just south of the Parlin Pond Bridge, cutting off access to a network of smaller roads in the area and stranding people who live or camp there.

Sen. Rod Whittemore, of Skowhegan, who toured the area Wednesday evening, said Thursday that the “destruction and devastation” has to be seen firsthand to be fully grasped, and that repairs could cost as much as $200,000. He stressed that while the roads are dirt and gravel, they are important for access to the area west of U.S. 201.

Ron Wichenbatch is among those cut off by road washouts. He and his wife have lived year-round at their property on View Road, about 10 miles from U.S. 201, since 1998. The road has large chunks missing, with cavities up to 20 feet deep.

Wichenbatch said in a phone interview Thursday that he’s not concerned about himself and his wife — they have plenty of supplies — but he’s been checking on others in the area.

“I’m doing fine. What the heck, I’m just going to stay right here and enjoy the quiet,” he said. “Eventually something’s going to be fixed. I’ve checked on some other people that might have grocery problems, someone who has insulin, but we can help them get supplies. We’re kind of self-sufficient and there’s good people up here.”

Meantime, Spencer Road “has to be repaired before anybody’s going to be able to get out of here,” he said.

There were no estimates Thursday evening as to how many people were trapped by the washed-out roads, but anecdotal information from road associations in the area confirmed there are many who are either forced to walk out, or use all-terrain vehicles.

The Parlin Pond Bridge, about halfway between Jackman and The Forks, washed out during the storm. It was closed Wednesday, spurring a 100-mile detour for travelers on U.S. 201, the main route between Maine and Quebec, but was back in service Thursday morning.

DEEP CRATERS

Area residents and government officials say the road washouts won’t be taken care of as quickly as the Parlin Pond Bridge. Access for both those who live there and emergency responders is a concern until it’s repaired.

“If I have a heart attack right now, the only way someone could get to me is by helicopter,” said resident Ernie Shufelt, the president of the No Road Owners Road Association in Upper Enchanted Township.

No Road is a private road off Spencer Road with about 40 landowners. Shufelt was not home at the time the rain hit Tuesday night and hasn’t been able to get his car home, though he is able to leave the area.

“We have craters 12 to 20 feet deep,” he said. “Probably between the two road systems, there’s a couple hundred thousand dollars’ worth of damage. The No Road Owners Road Association and the 5-10 Mile Road Association, which covers Spencer Road and some other connecting roads, normally maintain the roads but are not equipped to handle that kind of destruction, Shufelt said. About 100 landowners belong to the two associations and contribute a few hundred dollars each year toward maintenance, Shufelt said.

“We have people who have their vehicles stranded in here right now. They can’t get out,” he said. He said they have to walk about half a mile and get on a four-wheeler to get out.

The road associations have contacted local lawmakers, who toured the destruction Wednesday night, and they hope to secure state funding, Shufelt said.

Andy Webb, an excavation business owner from West Forks, said he had just finished grading and maintaining No Road on Tuesday morning, at a cost of about $10,000.

“All that effort literally went down road,” Webb said.

The Spencer Road and Grace Pond area is mountainous and has a lot of clear-cut terrain, Webb said, so there “isn’t a lot of vegetation to hold back the rain.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it, not like that in such a short amount of time,” Webb said. “We’ve had significant storms causing extensive damage, but not that localized or that quick. And being so extremely dry, the ground wasn’t really receptive to soak in the rain, and I think that added to the effect.”

Now, he said, people who own camps on the roads are either walking in or out,or using all-terrain vehicles on trails.

Joe Gagnon, president of the Mile Ten Owners Road Association, said Thursday members of his group were using two excavators to try to make a path down Old Spencer Road so four-wheelers could get in to assess the damage and help stuck camp owners. His association has about 13 miles of roads “that are all going to need a lot of work.”

“We got people stuck in there. They got to get out. They need groceries and whatnot,” Gagnon said.

Gagnon thinks it will be weeks before vehicles can get down the roads, which have 74 lot owners.

“It’s really insane, the amount of damage,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot in the spring with snow melting, but nothing even close to this. It’s unbelievable. We got one bridge that’s totally gone down the stream — it hit a beaver dam — and it is no more.”

REPAIRING THE DAMAGE

Whittemore is looking into ways to help after he toured the area Wednesday evening with Rep. Larry Dunphy, of Embden, whose District 118 includes the damaged area.

“You wouldn’t believe some of the destruction,” said Whittemore, whose District 3 includes all of Somerset county.

Spencer Road, which Whittemore described as “very significant,” runs from U.S. 201 west, through Parlin Pond, Bradstreet, Upper Enchanted, Hobbstown and Appleton townships, then into Franklin County. Whittemore said Thursday morning that estimates are it will take $150,000 to $200,000 to repair the damage.

The first few miles of Spencer Road belong to forest products company Weyerhaeuser, according to Shufelt. Kate Tate, spokeswoman for Weyerhaeuser, said Thursday that the company’s Maine team is “still evaluating the situation on our roads, so don’t have any specific conclusions to share.”

Farther down, it belongs to the road association members and is called Old Spencer Road. He said the road associations are also exploring whether Weyerhauser or other forest products companies that own land in the area would be able to help with repairs.

Since Spencer Road and those leading from it are private roads, the state has no obligation to maintain them, Whittemore said. But he added that state officials are concerned about the availability of the roads to the Maine Warden Service and the Maine Forest Service, particularly for emergency and fire response.

Shufelt, who has owned land on No Road for 25 years and is a year-round resident, said he has never seen such extensive damage on the road.

“We always knew we were responsible for maintaining the roads and established road associations in accordance with the state,” Shufelt said. “We keep the roads up, put gravel on them, we just replaced our own bridge, but there’s no way you ever would have anticipated anything like this. There’s really no way a small road association can handle it.”

In addition to several camps and a handful of year-round-residents, Shufelt said the roads are used by the public, including hunters, snowmobilers and ATV riders.

Whittemore also stressed the fact that the road connects to many others. “It’s just not a little insignificant road that goes nowhere.”

He said he spoke to Gov. Paul LePage about the damage Thursday morning, and said LePage is also concerned about the devastation. Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for LePage, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Repairs to the Parlin Pond Bridge on U.S. 201 — the main route through Somerset County into Quebec — were completed around 6 a.m. Thursday, re-opening the road after a detour that began Wednesday afternoon. Drivers were sent more than 100 miles out of their way the heavy rain washed out the south end of the bridge.

At Fifteen Mile Stream & Lodge Outfitters off Old Route 201 in West Forks, owner Rachel Crommett said a couple of travelers stopped by who had to take the 100-mile loop on Wednesday. She said a few people who own camps in the affected area plan to stay at the lodge Friday night, with hopes of getting into their camps on Saturday.

Gagnon, of the Mile Ten Owners Road Association, wonders if making costly repairs will be possible for the private roads.

“I don’t know how we’re going to recover from this without some help from the states or the feds,” Gagnon said. “We don’t have the money to help repair the roads to even see if we have camps left.”

The name of the lodge has been corrected in this story.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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