Sen. Reed tours town to see damage done by Hurricane Sandy
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed returned to his hometown on Wednesday to inspect damage to the island that occurred during last week’s storm. Prior to his inspection, Reed met with Town Administrator Bruce Keiser, Police Chief Edward Mello and Town Engineer Mike Gray at the police station.
“We want to look at the damage caused by the storm, and also coordinate with town officials to ensure that they get access to all the federal funds that are available,” Reed said. “We also want to continue to work with them on a regular basis to protect the town.”
The discussion began with general agreement that Jamestown had fared better than other parts of southern Rhode Island that had suffered from extensive flooding, beach erosion and property loss. Reed spoke about the federal and state money that is available to help the town offset the cost of damage to the island, including federal assistance funds that are in place to repair infrastructure damage.
Reed added that the federal emergency declaration that was sought by Gov. Lincoln Chafee and signed by President Barack Obama prior to the storm means that there will be funds to compensate the Police Department for overtime incurred during the storm and other expenses.
Keiser said that the town was ready to take advantage of the federal funds that are available.
“We had experience with the March 2010 storm,” Keiser said. “Our finance director, DPW, Fire Department and Police Department know what the paperwork requirements are to document what the effort was that was expended that is directly related to the storm. We are well positioned to be reimbursed.”
“These storms will become more frequent and more forceful,” Reed said. “There are real challenges ahead. Going forward a lot will be mitigation.”
“It’s not just a question of the town, it’s the state and federal government,” Reed added. “It was a very unusual storm. It was late in the season. One of the contributing factors was that the water temperature was so warm that it increased the ferocity of this storm. What we’re seeing is a trend of warming water in the ocean.”
Gray said that he met with state Department of Transportation offi- cials on Beavertail Road. The state road, which was damaged in the storm, is administered by the Department of Transportation. Reed pointed out that there is also $3 million of federal money available to the state transportation department for repairs, and suggested that the town apply for some of that money as soon as possible.
“I would focus on that right away,” Reed said. “Get in the queue.”
The biggest impact of the storm locally was the destruction of the town beach at Mackerel Cove. Keiser pointed out that because the beach’s dune system was eroded in the storm, the beach and the road adjacent to it are susceptible to further damage as a result of winter storms.
“It’s a work in progress until springtime,” Keiser said.
When the discussion turned to the town’s sewer system, Reed pointed out that there is a revolving clean-water fund in Rhode Island that provides loan assistance for water quality improvement projects in the United States. Keiser said that so far the town has been able to keep the system functional, and Reed pointed out that it would be best to get ahead of the problem.
Reed indicated that he thought that the local response to the storm was excellent. He said that the anticipation and planning was well done on a statewide level, involving the governor, the adjutant general of the National Guard, the state police and emergency management personnel. Reed said that they were thoroughly prepared. He also pointed out that National Grid did an excellent job in responding to the crisis.
“They reacted quickly and effectively,” he said. “It was just a superb response.”
“The senator obviously has great concern about his hometown of Jamestown,” Keiser said. “Despite the fact that we didn’t sustain the kind of damage that many other communities did along the south coast, we’re really grateful that he took the time out of his schedule to come and take a personal tour of the sites that were affected, particularly Mackerel Cove.”
Keiser characterized the response of the town departments to the storm as “superb,” and added that the information that Reed provided regarding the town’s ability to receive federal aid was important. He said that the ability to work with the senator’s staff to make sure that Jamestown gets its fair share will be helpful.
“We were very fortunate here in terms of the level of damage that we saw was fairly minimal compared to other areas of the state,” Mello said. “Just the fact that the senator came to view the area certainly sent a strong message that FEMA is here, and the funding opportunities that he spoke of are certainly things that we need to go after.”
Mello added that every member of his department did an outstanding job in response to the storm, and that the excellent response by the Police Department, Fire Department, EMS and Public Works Department should send a strong message of confidence to the public.
“We can’t assume that the future is going to be just like the past,” Reed said. “We have to anticipate problems, and it’s not just the town. It has to be a statewide and national effort.”