MACHIAS — Washington County’s emergency management director said that after Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. dropped plans to refire the Jonesboro Indeck plant, he considered getting together a group of sheriff’s deputies to take over the wood-fired generator.
Paul Thompson also told the more than 80 people attending a meeting Tuesday at the University of Maine at Machias that he had changed his title from Washington County director of emergency management to Washington County director of civil protection. He pointed to a map on the table and said he had divided the county into five regions. Directors in each of the regions would report to him so he would have five people calling him instead of “5 million,” Thompson said.
Bill Libby, director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency, said counties are free to propose changes in the way they handle their emergency management responsibilities and that he would consider any request from the Washington County commissioners. MEMA is the state counterpart of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which provides 50 percent of the funding for county emergency management directors, Libby said.
The Washington County commissioners provide half of the $19,578 Thompson receives for the 30 hours a week he works as director of emergency management. Norman Nelson, chairman of the commission, said Thursday he hadn’t heard that Thompson had changed his title or that he was moving to a regional system.
Thompson announced his change in title as he spoke to a group of municipal officials and representatives of private nonprofit organizations who attended a FEMA meeting to find out what storm-related expenses will be reimbursed by the state and federal governments.
“Under a federal disaster, I have extraordinary powers in Washington County,” Thompson said as he described what he said were the three options he had when approximately three-quarters of Washington County lost power following the Jan. 8 ice storm.
In addition to taking over Jonesboro Indeck, Thompson said he considered a demonstration at the darkened plant and consulted with Washington County’s “resident expert on demonstrations, Nancy Oden,” about getting a group of people to go out and stand at the facility. Thompson said he decided that wasn’t a good idea because it would have entailed taking people out of their houses and into the cold.
The power situation improved when Bangor Hydro “patched together a system” he said, but the reality was “intermittent power going up and down.” Then, WVOM-FM radio “created a demand for generators,” Thompson said.
Calling the use of generators “a media-driven event,” Thompson said many shelters in the area burned out generators because people didn’t know how to use them. Those generators were government property and their destruction was “the true sin” the media had created, he said.
Thompson went on to critique the emergency food voucher program developed by the state Department of Human Services.
“Free food for everyone, free food for everyone, free food for everyone,” he shouted from the podium. “That was the message that came out over the airwaves.”
Thompson said Human Services Commissioner Kevin Concannon was “personally responsible” for that message, but he also blamed municipal officials who he said mishandled the program.
“Consider this as something that is coming out of your own pocket,” he said. “You knew people who were perjuring themselves in front of you but somebody told you it was OK to do.”
Comparing that rationale to what he said was the reason for what happened to Jews during World War II, Thompson said it hurt him personally to see that. The meeting moved on to the subject of reimbursement when a municipal official told Thompson his time was short and he needed to hear from the state and federal officials.
Concannon said Thursday that 10,000 families received food vouchers and he’d do it again tomorrow. Concannon said he’s just glad Thompson is not the emergency management director in his area because Thompson “did a real disservice to people in the poorest county in the state.”
“I told him the criteria for the vouchers was that a person had to be out of cash, out of money in a bank account and have lost food in the storm,” Concannon said. “He told me there were no food problems in Washington County and if people needed food they could go to a shelter.”
Former state Rep. Theone Look said Thursday she was in a state of shock as Thompson spoke. Some of the references Thompson made “were totally out of place,” she said.
Eve Preston of Benchmark Development Services said she attended the meeting because of her contract work administering federal programs for the town of Lubec. Preston said the message she heard from Thompson was that he was angry at municipalities because they had incurred extra costs during the storm and the days without electricity that followed.
Preston said people attended the Tuesday meeting not to abuse the system, but to try and recover costs. Accusations of municipal graft were the last thing she expected from the one person whose job it is to help the county in an emergency, Preston said.
Washington County Sheriff John Crowley said he and his officers never would have agreed to a takeover of the Indeck plant without authorization from the governor. Preliminary talk of that action did take place, but some of the county’s legislative delegation was attempting to obtain the governor’s authorization, the sheriff said.