Joe’s Journal

Who picks up the tab?

Ramblings from an old scribbler
Wed, 02/07/2024 - 7:00am

Dan Bryer has a problem. A big problem.

The affable Boothbay town manager has a municipal budget of about $2 to $2.3 million, and he had to spend $2.7 to $3 million to repair roads hammered by the twin January storms.

The record storms slammed Ocean Point’s Shore Road and King Phillip Trail ripping pavement and damaging the shore. Bryer hired private contractors to augment town road crews to make the roads passable.

“What could I do?” he asked in a phone interview.

"I had to clear the damage so the fire department or the ambulance could respond to an emergency. I could not leave the people out there stranded. So, I spent money I didn’t have.”

In the long run, he hopes state and federal officials will help. In the meantime, he and the selectmen will have to find a way to cover the unanticipated expense.

David Cody, the regional emergency management director, is charged with collecting damage estimates for Boothbay, Boothbay Harbor and Southport.

Once he collects it, he sends it to Augusta. The state then puts it together with the estimates from other communities and sends it to the feds. The local request will swim through the bureaucratic maze to ensure it is in order and follows the mountain-sized bundle of regulations.

If it passes muster, it will be sent back to the state and finally back to Boothbay.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said that once the governor gets the final assessment and sends it to the feds, the Maine congressional delegation will ask the president to approve it.

“It was a true disaster, a perfect storm that came together in the wrong way at the wrong time,” said King.

In a bit of good news, Boothbay Harbor Sewer District dodged a bullet.

As seawater sloshed over the banks, they used sewer sandbags to keep much of the flood out of the main building. It was an all-hands-on-deck operation. As water spewed under the overhead door, the sea pushed against the shore forcing water back into the floor drains.

'We have sump pumps to clear the water out, but this time, it came in so fast they couldn’t keep up. The sandbags slowed the flow, allowing the pumps to work,” said Nicholas A. DeGemmis II, the superintendent.

The sewer district has plans to construct a six to 14-foot-high seawall to protect the vital sewage treatment plant from future storms.

Also, the district has applied for direct congressional funding for additional flood prevention measures.

Wiscasset is exploring similar flood prevention projects for its municipal waste treatment facility. Officials have even discussed relocating the entire plant to another location, a move that would be a major cost.

Elsewhere, the twin January storms heavily damaged the Southport municipal pier. Estimated repair costs could reach $250,000.

Boothbay Harbor escaped major damage.

While the federal disaster relief agencies seem to generate a lot of red tape, they provide funds to repair storm damage.

King has proposed a different approach. He and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) crafted a bill allowing business owners access to federal Small Business Administration loans to prevent damage in advance of storms. The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

King said the bill makes good sense. “It is better to prevent something from happening than it is to rebuild it after it is destroyed. These storms are becoming more frequent. It is a function of climate change. The (sea) water is getting warmer. That is the foundation of stronger storms,” said King.

While the Boothbay region escaped major damage, the rest of the coast was not so lucky. Up and down the coast, lighthouses, fishing wharves, piers and other marine facilities were damaged. State officials are busy cataloging those losses as local leaders, like in Boothbay, try to find someone else to pick up the tab.

Looking on the bright side, it could have been a lot worse.

Meanwhile, we are on the cusp of the Super Bowl and, as usual, the pre-game focus is on something that has nothing to do with the game. No, it is not the latest commercials from Budweiser and friends trying to grab the attention of a huge TV audience. This year, it is the storybook romance of the high school cheerleader (Taylor Swift) and the prom king (Travis Kelce).

Rather than accept the idea that it might just be real love, some political knuckleheads suggest their romance is a nasty secret Pentagon plot to torpedo the leading Republican candidate for president.

I get it. The “expert” TV talking heads on all sides have to fill air time with something. But suggesting the blond singer and the tight end as clandestine Pentagon political operatives?

Come on.