Mass. Gov. Baker: Federal Officials Encouraging on Disaster Relief

By | February 25, 2015

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday he’s gotten encouraging signs from federal officials as he’s begun reaching out to them with Massachusetts preparing a formal request for disaster relief following the spate of snowstorms.

Back home after a National Governors Association meeting in Washington, Baker noted the state’s struggles with snow removal, coastal damage, business slowdowns, and roof collapses on nearly 150 structures because of the storms that dumped 7 to 9 feet of snow on Massachusetts in the last several weeks.

He said the officials he spoke with from the Federal Emergency Management have been encouraging.

“President Obama actually on Sunday night said that he was aware of the impact that the storms have had on the New England region and wanted to make sure that his folks were doing everything they could do to assist us,” Baker said.

Under federal policy, the state could be reimbursed for up to 75 percent of snow removal costs, he said. For the first storm alone the bill topped $80 million for the state and local communities.

Baker didn’t say how much the final aid request would be.

“I’m not going to bid against myself on this,” He said. “We’re going to work with the feds and we’re going to collect all the data we need to collect from all of the various participants in this.”

Baker said that at the meeting, he personally thanked the governors of neighboring states who loaned equipment and workers to help Massachusetts. He said the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority also should consider some kind of good will gesture to riders who contended with weeks of canceled or stalled services.

MBTA officials said they’re weighing options for reimbursing passengers for weather-related breakdowns and delays.

In a message to riders Monday, MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott said the agency will discuss possible options next week with the finance committee of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board. A final recommendation will be made to the board March 11.

For the first time since Feb. 1, all subway and trolley lines were operational Monday, although equipment problems still plagued commuter rail lines, the T said. Scott said the agency appreciates the “hardships and inconvenience caused by the significant disruptions in service over the last four weeks.”

Baker also said he appreciated the patience of the traveling public.

“I think the folks at the T and our team and a lot of the folks we brought in from other states did a terrific job of digging the T out,” Baker said.

Those lingering commuter rails woes prompted Baker to call the president of the Keolis Commuter Services, the company based in France in charge of running the MBTA’s commuter rail service.

Baker said the company president apologized for the performance and he said it was not up to company standard.

“I told him I would be anxious to meet with him, and I expect that at some point in the not-too-distant future we will be meeting in Boston,” Baker said.

Associated Press writer Bob Salsberg contributed to this report.

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