I would like to provide some updates and details regarding the ongoing support efforts for those affected by the mid-January storms. These unprecedented weather events resulted in significant flooding and the destruction of vital working waterfront infrastructure across Maine.
We've received anecdotal reports indicating that over 60% of the state's working waterfront was either completely lost or severely damaged due to last month's storms. Our congressional delegation, Governor Mills, the Department of Marine Resources, FEMA, and the Small Business Administration have been assessing the coastal areas in an effort to grasp the full extent of the impact of the storms.
Despite these efforts, the specific types of resources that will be made available to the affected communities, and the timeline for their distribution, remain uncertain.
The traditional resources for disaster response are not entirely fitting for the unique needs of working waterfront infrastructure. FEMA's assistance targets primary residences and municipalities, while the Small Business Administration and FAME offer loans that are not typically suitable for working waterfronts, as they are not generally considered a 'bankable' asset class. Moreover, the NOAA's fishery disaster program requires a minimum of 12 months of documented losses before eligibility for funds is even considered.
Senator Collins, Senator King, Representative Pingree, and Representative Golden have all met with MCFA and local fishermen, toured impacted working waterfront, and have staff working overtime to find avenues from which federal funding can be used to support Mainers during this crisis.
The entire delegation also expressed caution about the speed at which Congress can respond and act considering everything that is happening in the nation's capital. That being said, this delegation has a history of delivering big wins for our fishing community, so I remain optimistic that they will be able to continue to find ways to help rebuild. However, the timing of that support is still unknown.
Governor Mills, her office, and the Department of Marine Resources have also worked quickly to identify that help is desperately needed and have developed and proposed a supplemental budget for the state, allocating $50 million for disaster response to address the aftermath of both the January coastal storms and the December storms affecting areas near rivers. The allocation of these funds between working waterfronts, roads, and other infrastructure, as well as the budget's approval, which requires a two-thirds majority vote in the legislature, is still uncertain. But, the Governor has identified this as a priority issue.
“I propose taking from the Rainy Day Fund to respond to some pretty rainy days we’ve had and some rainy days ahead,” Governor Mills at the 2024 state of the state.
So where does that leave the working waterfront that is trying to recover now, in time for the start of the fishing season? Pulling on their boots, putting on their gloves, and getting to work cleaning, repairing, and rebuilding.
MCFA has managed to raise a modest amount of funds, which will soon be deployed and will initially focus on cleanup efforts. Further details about the allocation of funds through the Working Waterfront Recovery Fund will be provided soon.
Additionally, we have collaborated with the Maine Marine Trade Association, Maine Lobstermen’s Association, Maine Lobstermen’s Union, and New England Fishermen’s Stewardship Association to disseminate a survey. This survey aims to gather more precise information about the immediate needs of the working waterfront community as they strive to recover.
If you had property damaged, please take the survey.
Important Information for Fishermen and Working Waterfront Owners:
In the short term, the Island Institute is offering a grant program where you can apply for up to $5,000: Island Institute Business Resilience Storm Response Grants FY24.
Regarding reconstruction, it's crucial to adhere to specific regulations. The Department of Environmental Protection's "PERMITTING GUIDANCE FOR STORM RECOVERY ACTIVITIES" document states that any repaired structure must not exceed the size of the original structure as it stood 24 months before the repairs. Elevating a structure over the water necessitates an individual NRPA permit application.
However, the DEP has introduced a bill (LD 2030) to the Legislature, aiming to simplify this process for elevating piers and potentially other working waterfront infrastructure. The DEP is actively working to amend this bill and recommends its emergency passage for immediate effect.
If you decide to proceed with rebuilding before the bill's passage, ensure that you are following regulations and permitting as required by the state and municipality.
Additionally, as you clean and rebuild, please make sure that you document all expenses and labor, as some costs might be reimbursable in the future.