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Illegal burn could cost town $20k in FEMA funds for wind storm clean up

A mistake made while cleaning up from the wind storm last October, could end up costing the town of Somerville tens of thousands of dollars in federal funds.

SOMERVILLE (WGME) -- A mistake made while cleaning up from the wind storm last October, could end up costing the town of Somerville tens of thousands of dollars in federal funds.

"I couldn't believe it," said Fire Chief Mike Dostie.

Dostie said he didn't know he was doing anything wrong.

He said the storm knocked down trees and left the town in the dark for nearly two weeks.

"Some roads are so narrow in town, because a lot of roads are dirt, and there's no place to put stuff and still be able to get by," he said.

Dostie said he told his crew to haul the debris to a piece of land he owns, where it would be burned.

"It gave us a place to get rid of it and keep going," he said, adding that they did make sure to get a burn permit from the town.

The damage was so extensive, officials applied for for federal help from FEMA and were expecting about $20,000.

Just this week, Dostie said the town was notified by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection that the burn was illegal, because it included waste from other locations and, therefore, required a license.

"We figured we were doing the right thing," said Dostie. "It's just wood. We're not burning anything we're not supposed to."

In an e-mail to the town, a DEP official said 1,034 cubic yards of vegetative waste was burned, but added he did not anticipate any formal enforcement action "since it appears to be the result of a lack of familiarity with the relevant rules and laws rather than an intentional or malicious violation."

On Thursday, a DEP spokesperson said the burn left more than 100 cubic yards of ash. While the department initially told the town it would have to hire a professional to remove all of the ash, he said they were notified the ash had already been spread and integrated into the ground to improve the condition of the soil, likely mitigating the potential for any runoff into the nearby pond and wetland.

He said as long as any ash remaining on the site that is not fully incorporated into the soil is removed, and any disturbed soil is stabilized to prevent erosion, the department will recommend the FEMA funds be released.

Dostie said it was an honest mistake, and the small town of 543 residents needs every cent it can get.

"Everything we do," he said. "Everybody tries to save every penny we can."

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