2018-03-02 / Community

Towns develop emergency shelter plan

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

ARUNDEL — It’s not every day an emergency shelter is needed, but it’s definitely the kind of thing you’d rather have and not need, than need and not have.

What’s more, it’s required by law.

With that in mind, the towns of Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, and Arundel are teaming with RSU 21 to develop a plan to share in the responsibility and cost of maintaining a shelter for local residents in times of need. At their most recent meeting, on Monday, Feb. 26, Arundel selectmen signed a memorandum of understanding committing to their participation “without assurance of cost recovery.”

Kennebunk selectmen were scheduled to sign on to the agreement at their meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 27. That session took place after this week’s Post went to press.

Selectmen in Kennebunkport are scheduled to consider the agreement at their next meeting, on March 8.

According to Arundel Emergency Management Director Renald Tardif — a man of many hats. Although a resident of Lyman, Tardif is also a deputy fire chief and full-time firefighter for Aundel, as well as health officer for the town — the need for a shelter became apparent after the Oct. 30 windstorm that knocked out power to more than 484,000 homes and businesses statewide.

During the event, about 20 people were allowed into the Middle School of the Kennebunks (MSK), which was used for the day as a “warming station” for local residents who had no way to heat their homes. In the past, Tardif said, he could house “about six or seven” people at the Arundel Fire Station for small events, but because of recent building renovations the space once used for that is no longer available.

Prior to its 2016 rebuild, Mildred L. Day School on Limerick Road was used for larger groups, “but somehow we got away from that,” Tardif said. And for really big events, the armory in Saco used to operate as a regional shelter, but that also has gone by the wayside in recent years, Tardif said.

“Some years down the road (the York County Emergency Management Agency) may want to do that again, but until then we need to have something in place,” Tardif said. “Shelters in Maine aren’t a big deal. People don’t like to go to shelters, they prefer to shelter at home. But in the case of a natural disaster, by law you’ve got to have a place for them to go. So, that’s why we’ve been working on this (agreement) for the last three months or so.”

Hammered out between Tardif and his emergency management peers in Kennebunk and Kennebunkport, the new plan calls on using the Dorothy E. Stevens Center in West Kennebunk — located at 80 Thompson Road, between Middle School of the Kennebunks and West Kennebunk Fire Station — as a first line of defense.

That site can house up to 25 people, Tardif said. If more space than that is needed, MSK will be utilized, at which time the Stevens Center would then be pressed into service as a shelter for any household pets people might bring. If MSK is used, a barricade will be put in place to cordon off the portion of the school used as a public shelter from the rest of the building.

“The RSU has said they will pick up the cost for that,” Tardif said.

Setting up the shelter will cost $3,345 in year one, and $2,496 per year for the next three years after that, to be divided equally between the three towns, Tardif said. The majority of that money will be used to buy cots for use by those who take advantage of the space, with 50 purchased each year until a supply of 200 is on hand. Year 1 costs also will include wiring to connect a power generator to the Stevens Center and an outdoor metal storage pod to be placed beside the West Kennebunk Fire Station, to warehouse the cots, as well as blankets and pillows — to be supplied by York County EMA — towels, washcloths and a limited number of toiletry kits.

According to Arundel Town Manager Keith Trefethen, Arundel voters will be asked for a total of $1,500 as part of the 2018-2019 municipal budget. That money will include funding for two small generators, for use by residents who may show up to the shelter with oxygen tanks.

The $1,500 ask will be a line item in the civil emergency preparedness portion of a “miscellaneous” account, Trefethen said. Board chairman Thomas Danylik noted that while selectmen signed onto the agreement Monday, participation is “contingent upon approval of the warrant” by voters at the annual town meeting in June.

And, of course, there is no guarantee that will happen.

“That’s what they argue over,” Selectman Velma Hayes said. “(Public Works Director) Roger (Taschereau) asks for $450,000 for roads and it goes though in three seconds. But then somebody’s got to question $1,500 and they’ll argue for 20 minutes.”

If and when the shelter is pressed into service, operational costs would include fuel for the power generators and meals for any long-duration stays.

“The school would actually feed the people and we would reimburse them,” Tardif said, noting that as part of any emergency declaration, the towns would be in line for Federal Emergency Management Agency payouts to recover some or even all of those dollars.

“Most shelters are run by volunteers, so there wouldn’t be much payroll, except that we do have to have some type of medical staff there. So, there may be a little cost there,” Tardif said. “But as far as operational costs, unless we have to feed a bunch of people, it should be pretty minimal.”

Some Arundel selectmen wondered how the bill would be divided if the shelter is used by residents of the other two towns only. It would still be a three-way split, Trefethen said.

“If it ended up being a coastal storm exclusively and the shelter was opened (for residents of Kennebunk and/or Kennebunkport) we’re part of that nickel, too,” he said.

“We talked about how to divide it if that were to happen, but I think that would just become a nightmare to try and figure that out every time based on who is there from what town,” Tardif said. “So, we decided to just make it a three-way split. It’s going to be a community shelter. The school is good enough to provide space for us. So, just divide it equally each time.”

Hayes asked how, in the event of a major snow storm, people would get to the shelter, especially given the travel distance for most Kennebunkport residents.

“That’s a good question,” Tardif said. “If it came down to it, we could go get people, if they call.”

According to Tardif, once funding is in place following the June town meetings, he and his fellow municipal EMA directors will begin finalizing an action plan for how the shelter is to be run, including how best to notify residents in times of crisis when it is available.

“Basically, this agreement just gives us the go-ahead to continue with planning,” Tardif said. “We’d like to have it up and running and ready for use by this fall.”

In addition to acknowledging they might not necessarily be reimbursed for operational costs when the shelter is opened, the memorandum of agreement says each town “agrees to participate in meetings and drills related to disaster relief,” and that they “agree to furnish educational materials and appropriate training to dealing with citizens and animals in a disaster.”

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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