WASHINGTON – Hurricane Isabel and its cleanup will cost the state and local governments about $80 million, and it will be months before the job is done, Maryland’s director of homeland security told a congressional committee Friday.
But Maryland Homeland Security Director Dennis Schrader said that as much as 75 percent of that amount could be eligible for federal reimbursement, give or take a few million. The next step is filling out the detailed paperwork and engineering assessments required before federal funds flow in.
“Things that are in our estimates may not be approved,” Schrader said.
The $80 million assessment was enough to qualify Maryland for additional federal help. When the state was declared a major disaster area on Sept. 19, it qualified for federal reimbursement only for debris removal and emergency protective measures, but Wednesday’s upgrade will allow Maryland to apply for federal funds to repair roads, water treatment facilities, parks, public buildings and equipment, and public utilities.
Schrader said after his testimony to the House Government Reform Committee that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has already approved more than $10 million in aid for individuals in the state. The Insurance Services Organization estimated Thursday that insurers expect to pay $410 million to homeowners and businesses in Maryland and Washington for insured property losses as a result of the hurricane.
Schrader was part of a panel that also included representatives of water and transit agencies, power companies and a condo association, as well as emergency response officials from the federal government, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
Power company officials again found themselves answering questions about their performance after the storm, which knocked out power to as many as 1.25 million homes and businesses in Maryland. Thousands were still without power a week after the storm.
Pepco had more than 5,000 power lines down after the storm, which is “more in one storm than we see in a year,” said Pepco President William Sim.
When asked whether it would help to have more lines underground, Sim said that it would decrease the number of outages and cited Washington as an example. In Washington, he said, 63 percent of the lines are buried and the downtown area was unaffected by the storm.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, said he has received hundreds of complaints about poor customer service by Pepco, with constituents saying they were given misinformation about live wires or brushed off by customer representatives with brusque comments like “sorry” or “too bad.”
“People have lost much faith in the ability of Pepco to respond,” Van Hollen said.
He read part of a letter from a Silver Spring resident who had a live wire down in her yard for more than a week. Her letter said Pepco did not come to her house until she called a local TV station.
Sim said he is sure that particular case is under investigation and that communication with customers was an area where improvement was needed.
The panel did have some praise for Pepco, commending Sim for hiring former FEMA Director James Lee Witt to assess the company’s response to Isabel.