March 18, 2010

Federal funds to repair seawalls may fall short


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Staff photo by Gregory Rec... People walk past the damaged seawall at Kennebunk Beach in Kennebunk on Saturday, April 21, 2007.

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Staff Photo by John Ewing: 20070420 Friday, April 20, 2007....The sea wall at Kennebunk Beach suffered significant damage in the storm earlier this week.

Staff Writer

Officials in Wells and Kennebunk estimate it will cost millions of dollars to repair the seawalls damaged in each town during last April's destructive nor'easter. Recent preliminary estimates from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, however, have fallen well short of that.

Repairs are expected to cost an estimated $2.2 million in Kennebunk and $3.3 million in Wells. But FEMA's preliminary estimates call for reimbursements of just $550,000 for Kennebunk and $45,000 for Wells, according to figures from the Maine Emergency Management Agency. Both figures are still being finalized and could change.

Meanwhile, both seawalls remain susceptible to major damage from future storms. The Webhannet Drive seawall in Wells had to be patched again after a nor'easter this month, said Wells road commissioner Edgar Moore.

''If we have another bad storm, we could have problems,'' Moore said. ''It's been very tender.''

Moore said that after every storm, his first priority is to check the seawall for new damage. ''I feel it's a very dangerous situation,'' he said.

Last April's powerful nor'easter caused about $31 million worth of damage to public infrastructure statewide, according to the most recent figures from the Maine Emergency Management Agency. York County shouldered $13 million of that total.

Kennebunk Town Manager Barry Tibbetts said he remains optimistic that FEMA and town officials will be able to ''find a meeting place in the middle'' as discussions continue on funding for the seawall project.

FEMA is only authorized to fund restoration of facilities back to pre-storm conditions. Both Kennebunk and Wells would like to see their old seawalls rebuilt to current standards to prevent major damage in future storms. The wall in Kennebunk, Tibbetts said, is built to 1960s standards. The town wants to replace about 2,000 linear feet of the structure.

''It needs to be replaced to do it right,'' he said. ''Otherwise, we're just going to be right back at the drawing board again (after the next storm).''

The Maine Emergency Management Agency has asked for a reappraisal of the two projects. After final numbers are determined, if the towns are still not satisfied with FEMA's reimbursement, they can file an appeal.

Marty Bahamonde, public affairs officer in FEMA's Boston regional office, said final figures for both seawall projects are still being determined as FEMA finishes assessments.

If final figures fall short of repair costs, the towns could apply for FEMA mitigation funds. They could also pay for some repairs on their own or forgo repairs to parts of the wall.

Tibbetts said he wouldn't opt to add repair costs to the town tax bill; in a worst-case scenario, he said, the town would appeal FEMA's decision as it did successfully after a 1998 storm. Wells Town Manager Jane Duncan was not available for comment last week.

Officials in both towns, however, said they want to see the projects completed as soon as possible.

''It could go out again, and if the wall does go, it could really tear things up there,'' said Moore, the Wells road commissioner. ''We're going to have to bite the bullet and do something.''

Staff Writer Anne Gleason can be contacted at 282-8229 or at:

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