Biden approves disaster declaration after January storms hit New England fishing communities

U.S. Senator Susan Collins with members of the Maine Coast Fishermen's Association
U.S. Senator Susan Collins and members of the Maine Coast Fishermen's Association tour damage from the storms in Harpswell, Maine | Photo courtesy of the Office of U.S. Senator Collins
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The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has approved disaster declarations for states in the northeastern region of New England after major storms hit coastal fishing communities in January, clearing the way for federal funding and assistance.

The first storm, arriving on 10 January, brought heavy rains that damaged docks, sunk vessels, and flooded many coastal communities. A second storm a few days later continued the devestation with record-breaking high tides and winds of more than 50 miles per hour.

Maine Governor Janet Mills requested federal assistance in February, claiming the two storms caused USD 70.3 million (EUR 64.9 million) in public infrastructure damage. Biden approved disaster declarations for both Maine and Rhode Island on 20 March.

“I thank President Biden for his approval of my request for a major disaster declaration for the January storms that devastated Maine’s iconic coast,” Governor Janet Mills said. “President Biden’s approval unlocks federal relief funds that will help Maine communities, individuals, and families as they repair storm damage. My administration will continue to do everything possible to help Maine communities recover from and become more resilient to catastrophic weather events.”

The federal assistance includes grants for “temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster,” according to the president’s statement.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) are establishing Disaster Recovery Centers in impacted areas.

U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), who serves as vice chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, announced in March that she had secured USD 15 million (EUR 13.8 million) in annual appropriations legislation to help improve working waterfronts infrastructure, with most of the funding specifically set aside to help communities recover from the recent storms.

“Maine’s working waterfronts are the economic engine of our coastal communities, but recent damaging weather events have posed significant challenges to their resilience and underscored the urgent need for federal assistance,” Collins said. “This investment aims to revitalize working waterfronts across the country, allowing communities like Harpswell to recover from severe storm damage whose financial toll exceeds the capacity of local government to meet.”

The bulk of the funding, USD 10 million (EUR 9.2 million), will go to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and be used to repair and renovate infrastructure damaged by the storms. The remaining USD 5 million (EUR 4.6 million) will support Collins’ Working Waterfront Preservation Act, which established a new grant program at the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to purchase or improve working waterfront property in coastal states.

Maine is also trying to scrounge up funding on a state level, with lawmakers considering legislation that would allocate USD 50 million (EUR 46.1 million) from the Maine Budget Stabilization Fund to address damage from the storm and improve existing infrastructure along the working waterfront. The bill, LD 2225, has received support from the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association (MCFA).

“The working waterfront in Maine plays a pivotal role in supporting economic activities in coastal communities,” MCFA Executive Director Ben Martens said in testimony on the bill. “Many of these vital working waterfronts are situated on private properties, which have limited funding sources. The proposed legislation rightly recognizes the gravity of this situation and aims to provide funds to address essential infrastructure needs of the commercial fishing community.”

Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association Director of Community Programs Monique Coombs will be hosting a panel discussion on the future of Maine’s working waterfront following the storms on 29 April in partnership with the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust.

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