Officials seek help for Bethel storm damage

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BETHEL – Four days after Gov. John Baldacci declared a state of emergency in Oxford County following last week’s catastrophic rain storm, he formally sought federal aid on Tuesday from the Bush administration.

Maine Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins also joined the effort on Tuesday, seeking additional help from U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

According to Baldacci’s letter, the severe summer storm dumped 6 to 8 inches of rain in approximately 45 minutes on Wednesday night on Bethel, Gilead and Newry. The cloudburst devastated Bethel’s Chapman Brook municipal water supply, washed out three bridges on three highways, and covered sections of roads with mud slides

The Bethel Water District is trucking in a daily average of 80,000 gallons of water from neighboring water supplies to meet public water needs at an estimated cost of $5,000 per day, Baldacci spokesman David Farmer said Tuesday.

“The current condition of the public water supply for Bethel isn’t sufficient to provide fire protection, sanitary service and clean drinking water,” Baldacci wrote Tuesday. “Emergency assistance to this water supply is required to protect property and public health and safety.”

Due to the calamity, the Bethel Water District has yet to lift its water conservation order, but has expanded allowed usage to include essential personal laundry. Outdoor uses still prohibited include washing cars and watering flowers and lawns.

“The current water supply is fragile,” district Treasurer Mike Broderick said Tuesday in an e-mail.

“While we were close to capacity in the reservoir (on Monday), we cannot anticipate being able to maintain that level, required for maximum fire protection in our village area, under the uncertainty of weather variations.”

To maintain continued service without suffering extraordinary costs in water transport fees or shortages in protection supplies, it is essential that district customers continue to aggressively conserve water, Broderick said.

“This is still an emergency situation” that will be reviewed on a daily basis, he added.

In his letter, Baldacci requested $506,000 in federal support for immediate needs, including $86,000 for debris removal, $205,00 for road damage on the throughway between Gilead and Bethel, and $215,000 for emergency protective measures.

Farmer said Baldacci believes federal aid will soon come from agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“He is committed to doing everything he can to help. The federal government and FEMA were very quick to respond to the Patriots Day storm, so, he’s optimistic we’ll get help,” Farmer said.

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