Mills asks Biden to issue federal disaster declaration



(The Center Square) — Maine Gov. Janet Mills is asking President Joe Biden to issue a major disaster declaration for several counties battered by power outages and flooding from a December storm.

In a letter to Biden, Mills asks the president to direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide funding through its Public Assistance Program to 10 Maine counties hit hardest by the storm. Mills also requested individual assistance for people impacted in Androscoggin, Franklin, Kennebec, Oxford and Somerset Counties.

The December storm brought significant flooding and damage to central and western Maine, which Mills estimates caused upwards of $20 million in damage to public infrastructure.

“With the hardest hit areas residing in low-income communities, and limitations associated with the lack of skilled contractors, available housing and readily available major household items, the ability for these individuals to recover is well beyond the physical or fiscal capacity of the community or the state at large to support,” she wrote.

The move would reimburse cities and towns for up to 75% of the local funds spent on expenses ranging from debris removal and roadway repairs to staff overtime related to the flooding response, the governor’s office said.

Mill’s request also calls for funding from the federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which can reimburse the state and local governments for up to 75% of the cost for projects that reduce the likelihood of damage to roads and other public infrastructure in the future.

Power outages impacted an estimated 443,475 properties as a result of the severe storm and flooding event, state officials say, leaving nearly a third of Maine’s population and infrastructure without power. High floodwaters damaged roads, leaving large portions of the state inaccessible to utility crews, they said.

A preliminary assessment by FEMA identified 13 destroyed, 106 major, 65 minor, and 31 affected properties across the five counties. Only 6% of the owner-occupied properties across the five counties were covered by flood insurance at the time of the storm.

In her letter, Mills said a lack of alternative housing options and skilled contractors, the cost of replacing major appliances, the need for mold remediation, and other challenges make the circumstances beyond the ability of the state or communities to support.

Mills said emergency management officials are still evaluating damage from two winter storms last week that hammered Maine’s coastline. She said if damage from those storms exceeds Maine’s ability to recover, she will request another disaster declaration from the federal government.

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