April 06, 2020

Ice clause limits FEMA aid to Aroostook County

HOULTON — About 50 local government officials from all over Aroostook County turned out Wednesday to find out what help they could get from the government to deal with the cost of dealing with the recent rash of snow and ice storms in the state.

What they learned was that unless they had problems directly related to ice, rain or wind between Jan. 5 and Jan. 25, there probably wasn’t much that the government could do for them.

“Most of us are trying to figure out what we’re going to do with the snow that’s on top of the ice that’s on top of the snow that’s on top of the ice,” said Jerry McAvaddy, Presque Isle’s director of emergency management, referring to the layers of snow and ice that were causing problems throughout the region.

Helene Whitehouse, the assistance officer for the Maine Emergency Management Agency, responded that because ice was involved, the removal of the mixed buildup would be a reimbursable cost.

“If it’s mixed with snow, nobody’s saying you’ve got to sift it out,” she said.

Weather observers at Houlton International Airport reported Wednesday that 35 inches of precipitation had fallen between Jan. 5 and Jan. 25. Much of that was in the form of ice pellets and mixed precipitation that later were covered by freezing rain, which made it very heavy.

Over the last three weeks, there have been numerous reports of roofs collapsing under the weight of ice and snow.

George Jones of the Federal Emergency Management Agency told the group at Houlton that federal aid would not be available for snow plowing. Ice pellets also would not be covered if removal was linked to plowing and sanding.

FEMA, Jones explained, will provide up to 75 percent reimbursement to state and local governments, including school districts, some nonprofit organizations and Indian tribes for qualifying costs related to storm cleanup, including road salt and sand, and salaries over and above what would normally be paid.

The state has agreed to pick up another 15 percent, leaving local government entities to pay the remaining 10 percent.

“Our purpose is to restore you to Jan. 4 conditions,” Jones said. “This [reimbursement] hopefully will take some of the strain off of the local community.”

That strain could also include costs for removing ice buildup up from municipally owned buildings as well as removal of fallen tree limbs, and repair work to public utilities, parks and playgrounds and road systems.

Whitehouse added that if towns were still in the process of cleaning up storm damage, those costs still could be reimbursed if the damage occurred within the required periods of time.

Jones also said that if damage to personal property from the storm resulted in municipalities having to spend money to protect the public safety and welfare, those costs also could be considered for reimbursement.

Such expenditures could include the extra cost to pay for building inspections, local emergency management efforts, or firefighters who normally are compensated on a per-call basis.

Jones made it clear, however, that federal and state aid could only be paid if damage or damage-prevention costs were not covered by insurance.

Private property owners who attended Wednesday’s meeting were told that if they needed assistance, they could apply to FEMA’s Individual Assistance Program by calling 1-800-462-9029.

According to Rob Roberts, the public affairs officer for FEMA, so far in Maine there have been 18,727 requests for individual aid, of which only 13 have come from Aroostook County. He said $480,000 has been paid out in assistance aid so far.

Meanwhile, county officials are still trying to deal with potential roof-collapse problems,

Vernon Ouellette, director of the Aroostook County EMA, said individuals who offer roof-clearing services in the region have been overwhelmed with requests. Because of that, he said his office would begin assembling a list of individuals from across the state who offer those services so people can contact them.

“We haven’t got much choice,” he said., “We’ve got to get up there and clear these roofs.”

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