The state agency responsible for the safety of hundreds of dams across Maine is requesting more money and more staffing.
The proposal to triple staffing by adding two full-time employees was sent to Gov. John Baldacci last week. The proposal also asks the governor to step up enforcement against dam owners who are out of compliance with safety rules.
As it stands, there’s a single dam inspector, and shortcomings were revealed after last spring’s flooding season in southern Maine.
An investigation by the Portland Press Herald last summer found that 73 of 102 Maine dams that were required to have emergency plans were out of compliance, either because the plans were expired or had never been filed.
The Maine Emergency Management Agency’s proposals _ six months in the making _ are part of an effort to protect people, buildings and roads downstream from dams, said Charlie Jacobs, acting director of the agency.
“We have aging dams,” Jacobs said, “so the problem is getting more severe.”
MEMA regulates about 840 of the state’s 1,015 dams. Hydroelectric dams fall under the control of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
MEMA’s report requests an additional $70,000 in annual spending, which would be matched by federal funds to hire a second dam inspector and an administrator. The budget currently is $110,000.
State Sen. Ethan Strimling said the state’s homeland security task force, which he co-chairs, will recommend a new fee on dam owners to cover the funding recommended by MEMA.
Currently, owners pay nothing when the state inspects their dams, and there have never been any penalties levied for being out of compliance.
“The task force unanimously agrees that we must enhance dam safety in the state,” said Strimling, D-Portland.
Baldacci indicated that he’s open to boosting funding for the agency. “I have set aside money in the budget to bring in people with specific expertise to address the concerns that were raised,” he said.
Information from: Portland Press Herald,
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