LEWISTON – For the first time, a disaster declaration has made it possible for public entities to receive relief from the federal government for damages caused by cold winter weather.

Androscoggin County is one of 10 Maine counties designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency last week as eligible for federal disaster funds to help in the recovery from the effects of severe cold weather and frost last winter.

“I think the fact that they’ve recognized the emergency needs for cold weather claims is significant and it will open the doors around the country. This is the first time this has ever happened and it is significant,” said Lewiston Public Works Director Chris Branch.

President Bush authorized the assistance as part of a major disaster declaration after a review of an analysis by FEMA of Maine’s request for federal aid. The Maine Water Association was instrumental in making the request.

The state of Maine and affected local governments, including those within the Lewiston-based Androscoggin County Emergency Management Agency, are eligible to apply for federal funding to cover up to 75 percent of losses to public utilities, public buildings and equipment owned by local governments.

The state is also eligible for cost-shared funding for approved projects to reduce future risks of damages caused by natural disasters.

“This is for those who may have sustained some damages and think they may qualify. Lewiston and Auburn had an awful lot of busted water lines,” said Joanne Potvin, director of the Androscoggin County EMA.

Damages to the public water system in Lewiston are nearly double what Auburn has sustained and Lewiston’s costs are still rising. “Were estimating that it’s going to be in excess of $135,000 right now. With the repair work on Lisbon Street, we’re not sure, but we think it’s going to kick it up over $150,000,” Branch said.

“It’s going to certainly help us with expenses we’ve incurred,” said Norm Lamie, superintendent of the Auburn Water and Sewerage District. Auburn spent about $85,000 repairing broken water mains and services during the first three months this year.

“Some schools have had some damages. They may qualify as well,” Potvin said. She added that schools, publicly owned utilities and governmental bodies could apply for assistance if they sustained weather-related damage to public infrastructure by filing a notice of intent with FEMA.

FEMA will conduct a briefing for officials of local governments and public utilities in Androscoggin County at 1 p.m., May 28, in the EMA offices at the Lewiston Central Fire Station, 45 Oak St.

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