March 18, 2010

Towns should pay for seawall upgrades themselves

— Last April's powerful nor'easter caused a great deal of damage as it lashed the Maine coast, qualifying the state for disaster relief funds from the federal government.

Some municipalities, however, are finding that the government checks may not be as big as they were expecting.

The towns of Wells and Kennebunk have received preliminary estimates from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, letting them know that the disaster funds will pay for only a fraction of the work the towns say is needed to repair seawalls in their communities.

What is putting the two governments at odds are differing visions of the scope of the work. Town officials say they want to build the walls to modern standards, protecting property from severe damage in future storms.

The federal government says it will only pay to return the seawalls to the condition they were in before the storm hit. The difference of opinion carries a big price tag.

According to preliminary estimates, FEMA would pay $550,000 of a $2.2 million job in Kennebunk and $45,000 of a $3.3 million repair in Wells.

As difficult as it would be for the towns to come up with the money, FEMA is right to limit its contribution. If the towns want to upgrade their facilities, they should pay for it themselves.

Which is not to say that what the towns propose is not worthwhile or necessary.

If the seawalls are going to be repaired, it makes sense to do it to the highest standard, perhaps protecting residents from more damage at a later date.

But the federal taxpayer should not be footing the bill for the entire project. While FEMA would make a significant contribution, it really should be up to the residents of the towns to do what is in their long-term best interest.

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