AUGUSTA — As people hurried to repair damage from the ice storm Monday, public damage estimates were more than $6 million, with only nine of 16 counties having reported. That’s well over the $1.2 million threshold for a federal disaster relief request, which Gov. Angus King signed and rushed off to the White House Monday afternoon.
“That [$6 million] could easily double,” said Lt. Walter McKee, a spokesman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency.
And that’s just the public cost. The real cost of the storm has been to the privately owned power companies, with preliminary estimates topping $25 million.
Utility repair crews have come from as far away as Maryland, increasing Central Maine Power’s work force by more than five times the normal number, and people have worked 20-hour days. CMP and Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. have to pay everything — transportation, overtime, expenses.
The utility costs aren’t covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA pays 75 percent of public costs, and state and local governments are expected to pay the remainder. But damage sustained by private utilities is not paid by FEMA. While Maine’s congressional delegation will be working to try to expand what is covered by the federal relief, the regional director of FEMA said that it is not likely to change.
“If it’s a public utility there would be help available, but since they are private utilities we would not be able to assist them in any type of way directly,” said Jeffrey Bean. He said that indirect help, like technical assistance from the Army Corps of Engineers, might be possible.
When asked if that cost is likely to be passed on to consumers as a rate increase, Phil Lindley, a spokesman for the Public Utilities Commission, immediately said, “Yes.”
That was the short answer. The long answer, of course, is much more complicated and will depend on the exact costs and how the utilities want to pay them: quickly or slowly. Bill Cohen, a spokesman for Bangor Hydro, said he had “no idea” how much repairs would be at this point. Rebuilding the transmission line in Washington County, for example, will cost more than $1 million but less than $2 million — a big range. David Flanagan, the president of CMP, said that all their financial people are working on getting workers hotel rooms, food and laundry now rather than figuring out the bottom line. He said their priority has been getting the electricity back on; time to look at the finances later.
Dennis Bailey, a spokesman for the governor, said that the rough estimates are $25 million in expenses for CMP and about $5 million for Bangor Hydro.
When asked how the state would pay for its share of the costs — things like the $300,000 a day in overtime pay for Department of Transportation crews — Gov. Angus King said the surplus revenue would be an option, and added, “We’re changing the name of the rainy day fund to the icy day fund.”
As for private costs, King said that people should not expect a check from FEMA. While there are a few grants and low-interest loans available through FEMA, he said, people should be checking out their insurance policies.
“This is slow, slogging work,” King said, to rebuild the utilities’ infrastructure. And being without power, he added, “gets old,” really fast.